How Mitchell Elegbe went from an employee to building one of Africa’s leading fintech companies now valued at more than $1 billion

Ben Ebuka January 10, 2023
Mitchell Elegbe

Mitchell Elegbe is the Founder, Managing Director, and CEO of Interswitch, an integrated financial payment company in Nigeria. He was a former employee of Schlumberger Wireline and Testing, and telnet until 20O2, when he left to pursue his dream of building an electronic payment solution for his home country Nigeria

His passion for developing a digital payment solution was spurred by an ugly encounter with an automated teller machine (ATM) in Scotland, where his debit card got trapped. As of then, there was no ATM in Nigeria, and he was reminded of the long and stressful journeys that people had to make to banks.

On his return to Nigeria, Mitchell worked briefly again for Telnet, where he pitched his business idea to his boss, who accepted and authorized him to implement it. However, the outcome failed. Not deterred, he decided to sell his software, but everyone he approached said no. Still desirous and convinced of the potential of his business, he decided to launch Interswitch himself.

Mitchell founded Interswitch in 2022, with headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria. Mitchell initially faced difficulty raising funds and finding a suitable CEO to run the company as he had hoped. With the support of Accenture, a multinational professional services company, he was able to raise some capital through banks.  Left with no other choice due to lack of capital to hire an experienced CEO, Mitchell stepped into the role himself just four years after finishing his mandatory one-year National Youth Service program in Nigeria.

Now, Interswitch is the leading and foremost integrated digital commerce and financial services platform in Africa, focused on inspiring Africa to greatness through innovation, value creation, excellence, and creating a tech solution that connects individuals, businesses, and communities.

Interswitch provides a central, comprehensive, outsourced platform that enables customers across different banks to send and receive money seamlessly. It also connects devices like ATMs, POS, and other payment, gateways.

Education,Career and Awards

Mitchell graduated from Delta steel Technical High School and moved to the University of Benin, where he graduated as an electrical and electronics engineer. He is an alumnus of the IESE/ Wharton/CEIBS Global CEO program. He won several awards, including the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the year award, the CNBC/Forbes All African Business Leader (AABLA) for West Africa, and the Harvard Business School Association Leadership Award in the General Management Category. 

He also won the 2019 African Banker Icon from African Banker magazine, and is also a Bishop Desmond Tutu fellow of the African leadership Institute.

In 2014, Interswitch ranked first in the Delloite Technology Africa fast 50 and won a gold medal in the same year for innovation at the Computerworld Honors.

With just seven local Nigerian banks, an ATM consortium, and Globalcom in its initial stage, Interswitch today has almost all the Nigerian banks and over 11,000 ATMs on its network.

What started initially with a focus on the Nigerian market progressively evolved into a corporate financial services platform with a presence in other African countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Gambia.

Interswitch expanded its operation and added other strong financial service subsidiaries, including Verve and Quickteller.

In 2010 Helios Investment Partners bought two-thirds of Interswitch, and in 2011, Interswitch took a 60 percent stake in Bankom Limited, a Ugandan-licensed interbank switching company. The deal saw the transformation of Uganda’s premier Interbank switching company changed to Interswitch Limited (East Africa).

In 2013, Interswitch entered into a partnership for payment processing with Discovers Financial Services, an American financial Services Company. In 2014, Interswitch acquired a major stake in Paynet Group, an East African payment company, and in 2015, it boosted African fintech start-ups with a $10m investment fund for the sector.

In 2019, Visa paid $200 million for a 20% stake in the company, giving it a valuation of $1 billion, one of the few African startups to reach that status.

On lessons from his early experience building Interswitch, Mitchell says: “I learnt early that being trustworthy is an important attribute to make it in life. From a rather young age, I have resolved to make the best of every situation I face, knowing that crises will always throw up latent opportunities for the most discerning”.

Today, Mitchell spends much of his time mentoring and providing guidance to young entrepreneurs, particularly those in the fintech industry.

“Considering my background and experience with building a technology business within an emerging market context, I am able to do this. Also, I am a member of the board of Endeavor Nigeria which is a globally renowned entrepreneurial development initiative. This also helps me give expression to my passion for nurturing young people,” he said.

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