Unlike many university students getting ready to graduate this year, Serge Kiema isn’t fretting about finding gainful employment once his days on campus are over.
The University of Ottawa physics student is the co-founder and CEO of Dunia Payment, a fast-growing fintech startup that’s already won major funding and is now part of a virtual app-building boot camp for blockchain companies from around the world.
Co-hosted by open-source payments network Celo and digital events company Upright, the online program offers perks that include mentorship from the likes of PayPal and Winklevoss Capital and up to $10,000 in prize money for the winners.
Dunia Payment, a member of uOttawa’s Startup Garage pre-accelerator program, is one of only two Canadian startups among the 18 participants. But Kiema, who grew up in the west African nation of Burkina Faso, is no stranger to captivating juries at startup competitions. Two years ago, Dunia Payment took home $100,000 after winning an event sponsored by the Burkina Faso government.
The company – which makes a mobile app that allows people to send and receive wire transfers and pay bills via blockchain transactions – currently has about 3,700 users in Kiema’s native country and is growing its platform at the rate of 10-15 per cent a month. Kiema, who is graduating from uOttawa this fall, says the startup plans to start offering the service in 14 other African nations later this summer.
The budding entrepreneur – who first came to Canada to study mechanical engineering at Quebec’s Laval University and originally dreamed of becoming a rocket scientist – said he hatched the idea for Dunia Payments three years ago after a wire transfer from Africa to a friend in Houston “completely disappeared” en route to the United States.
“We started building something to solve this problem,” said Kiema, who worked with his friend and business partner, Serge Ouedraogo, to create the app.
Kiema says blockchain allows for more efficient and secure money transfers than traditional systems. Dunia Payments takes a cut of all transactions, but Kiema says users pay lower fees through his app than through most other methods of transferring funds.
Kathleen Kemp, the manager of the University of Ottawa’s Entrepreneurship Hub, says Dunia Payment is addressing a major pain point for customers.
“The Dunia Pay team really understands the problem they are trying to solve, as it's something they have experienced themselves,” she said in an email. “They have been able to build a solution that solves a really critical problem and involve the right people to help them establish themselves in their market, both in Canada and in Africa.”
Now at 12 employees, including four in Ottawa and another eight in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, Dunia Payments has its sights set on expanding to even more markets in the near future. Kiema, meanwhile, has nothing but praise for his adopted land, pointing to its “open-minded” citizens and wealth of technical expertise.
“It’s a good country to do business in and learn new things,” he said.