A Digital Banking System for the Unbanked in Africa
Mickey Costa and James Schuler, United States
Antigua Forum 2014
Mickey Costa and James Schuler came to Antigua Forum 2014 with a project to transform how politicians and political causes get access to money, especially from smaller donors. They left with an idea for a project to transform how another group gets access to money—the billions of people across the world with no bank accounts and little if any credit.
At the Antigua Forum, these young entrepreneurs learned from experts about challenges facing the unbanked. They also learned about Bitcoin and had detailed technical discussions about the workings of digital currencies. They soon saw a chance to help a lot of people.
Back home, Mickey and James called on new friends and mentors from the Antigua Forum who were excited to help. Ruth Richardson, former minister of finance in New Zealand, provided regular advice along with introductions to executives in financial institutions and in regulatory agencies. Soon, Mickey and James had a working prototype of a Bitcoin-based debit card. John Chisholm, a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist who they’d also met in Antigua, helped them show the prototype to investors in Silicon Valley. By the fall of 2014, they had their first funding, from a prominent Silicon Valley VC they met through John.
Next, they called Michael Strong, another new friend and mentor from Antigua Forum, who introduced them to his wife, Magatte Wade, a successful entrepreneur from Africa. Mickey and James soon were testing a pilot in Magatte’s home country of Senegal. It was a big success.
From here, they raised an additional $2 million from VC firms on both sides of the Atlantic, then took their model to Ghana, with a larger team and an improved banking system powered by Bitcoin’s Blockchain. They call it Atlas Money. In Ghana, Mickey and James have partnered with financial intermediaries and are pioneering a share economy model for banking in which local trusted community members can become branchless banks, creating a decentralized financial network powered by the people. These “microbanks” can now begin to earn more money than they ever dreamed, all while financially including and benefitting those around them.
Today, Mickey and James have a staff of twenty and plan to expand to other countries. They soon will raise Series A funding from investors, funds, and financial institutions around the world. With Atlas Money, they’re just getting started, creating a world where people can finance each other and bypass inefficient banks, and where financial services will be ubiquitous and cheap.
“Antigua Forum was invaluable for coming up with the idea and for coming in contact with investors. The environment and the processes used, along with all these great minds, really helped. In that environment you feel compelled to think big... It all started on a napkin in Antigua.” – Mickey Costa and James Schuler, United States