Bernard Laurendeau was born to a French father and an Ethiopian mother. He was raised in Addis Ababa and completed his early education in the French-based school Lycee Gebremariam in the same city before heading to France for higher education.

Bernard, like most diasporas, had wished to return to Ethiopia and conduct a patriotic mission to help improve his country. He believes, unlike in the old days, especially after the COVID-19 outbreak, most things are now achievable digitally. There are various options on how patriotic citizens can contribute to their country; for example, investing and sharing their expertise through coaching or teaching. Bernard has achieved this by founding a management consulting firm, including an expert network, keeping in mind the utilization of the country’s skilled force that has migrated to different countries as an advantage. Bernard says we must transform all the brain drain into brain gain.

Bernard was living in Silicon Valley when he met many brilliant Ethiopian tech minds he wanted to incorporate into a community. In 2018, this idea grew into a big expert community later known as Ethiopians in Tech.

Bernard believes one of the greatest attributes of the power America has acquired throughout the years is the uncanny ability to attract talent.

As a man of practice and execution, Bernard invested in Zayride and Arifpay while living in Silicon Valley. Arifpay started not long after the launch of Zayride, Ethiopia’s first taxi-hailing company. The lack of an accurate payment system and the ripple effect of payment sluggishness was the reason behind the launch of Arifpay.

Amongst other things, Bernard and his team suggested an all- encompassing digital entrepreneurship vision and strategy. They pitched their idea to the Ethiopian Job Creation Commission and received funding from the UNDP to start the project. The project persisted and grew to be called Enkopa, which means gold ore, a brand name inspired by the untapped potential in Ethiopia.

Over the past year, Enkopa has unveiled a large program around digital entrepreneurship, which includes setting up a private sector-led blended finance fund for startups, an incubation program, FROG (Freelancing-Outsourcing-Gig) economy initiatives, lobbying for the Startup-Act, etc. Some of their contributions are helping startups with promotions, advocating for the creation of new policies, and filling any noticeable gaps, especially concerning grants.

Capital caught up with Bernard to talk about the Enkopa summit and what it tries to achieve. Excerpts; 

Capital: What is the main reason behind the Enkopa summit?

Bernard Laurendeau: For the first time, an industry and thought leadership-oriented Summit is being organized in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, centered around Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The Summit has an objective to redefine entrepreneurship and innovation in a country that so badly and clearly needs a pivot in its Economic Growth.

No longer can we expect Ethiopia to grow organically. We need an Ethiopia 2.0 commensurate with population growth, the demand of the youth, and external economic pressures.

Ethiopia is- from a diplomatic and logistics standpoint- a hub at a crossroads in the Sub-Saharan African region and a gateway to the Middle East and Asia. And yet, the country has not been able to fully capitalize on these strategic geopolitical and location attributes.

We believe the Enkopa Summit will play a crucial role in bringing local and regional decision-makers, policymakers, experts, do-ers, academia, investors, corporate leaders, and more together around a table to have purpose-driven conversations.

Capital: Why should someone visit the summit?

Bernard Laurendeau: Enkopa Summit will be Ethiopia’s largest all-inclusive industry event centered on entrepreneurship, innovation, and tech. Why entrepreneurship, innovation, and tech? These are simply a trend or a fleeting fashion.

Entrepreneurship, innovation, and tech can actually transform a country. As a matter of fact, entrepreneurs are not only crucial but simply necessary for a country to grow. Entrepreneurs take risks and create jobs. All the large companies we know today, from Toyota to Chevron, from Samsung to Tesla, from Dangote to LVMH, have one thing in common: entrepreneurs taking a risk and starting a venture at the onset.

Since the main objective ok Enkopa Summit is to establish connections between dreamers, thinkers, innovators, do-ers, tech experts, policy makers, start-ups, coders, investors, and academia, everyone will find topics and contacts that will add value to their line of work.

It is by connecting at an inspiring event that participants can together make, accelerate, build, pivot, rethink, remake and collaborate on ventures transforming Ethiopia and Africa in general.

Capital: What measures have been taken to ensure a diverse and inclusive representation of voices and perspectives at the ENKOPA summit, and how do you plan to foster meaningful and equitable participation from underrepresented communities? How can diversity and inclusivity at the ENKOPA summit contribute to a more enriching and impactful experience for participants? How can organizers ensure that the ENKOPA summit attracts a diverse range of participants?

Bernard Laurendeau: The Summit will have a very diverse list of participants, speakers and exhibitors from a level of decision-making standpoint, in terms of amount of experience, in terms of nationality, from a company country of origin standpoint, in terms of sector, and many more metrics.

This is the inaugural event of a commercial venture, indeed Enkopa Summit itself is a risky commercial enterprise pioneered by Laurendeau and Associates (L&A), in partnership with Flawless Events with full backing from the Ministry of Labor and Skills.

L&A and Flawless are co-investing to bring this high-quality and international standard Summit to Ethiopia, on par with international events like MWC, Vivatech or Gitex. Prices for the Summit are very affordable compared to those events, and on top of that participants do not need to pay for flight, lodging and visa expenses to go to Enkopa. It will be happening right in their own backyard, in Addis Ababa…at least for 60% of them.

Enkopa Summit targets to have around 40% of participants coming from abroad. The economic impact on the city will be measured as much as possible and we hope the city of Addis Ababa will collaborate with us in the future, as the Summit represents a major boost to its MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) strategy.

Capital: You help to establish an Entrepreneurship Fund, What does this do?

Bernard Laurendeau: The Entrepreneurship Fund (EF) is a blended finance instrument to attract risk capital, and yet patient one, into the Ethiopian Entrepreneurship Ecosystem. The EF has been severely impacted by the war in Ethiopia in 2021-22. Like a lot of investment opportunities in Ethiopia e.g. the Global Partnership for Ethiopia (now known as Safaricom Ethiopia), the EF was not immune to the war; a flight of all large investors and as well as grant facility contributors who were committed to the EF occurred during the war. The Enkopa Summit will be an opportunity to resuscitate the EF who had been in ICU (intensive Care Unit) until now.

More details about the EF cab be found on our website.

Capital: Most startups in Ethiopia are all concentrated on service giving like delivery and taxi service, why is this?

Bernard Laurendeau: Enkopa Summit is here to disrupt the perception we have about Entrepreneurship & Innovation in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, Entrepreneurship & Innovation has been perceived as a hobby pursued by campus dropouts who are barely making ends meet. The wealth and depth of the ecosystem has not been given justice by international media outlets and even by local ones. The perception that most startups in Ethiopia are all concentrated on service giving like delivery and taxi service is simply not accurate. Startups are focused on all aspects of the economy. What they lack is exposure, not simply from a global experience but to start with from a local corporate one. These startups are evolving in a vacuum, most of them not connected fully to the “real” economy.

This is because most large companies, public enterprises and multinationals present in Ethiopia have mentally checked out from the whole Entrepreneurship & Innovation (eco)system. They have “outsourced” the incubation, acceleration and investment in the (eco)system to development partners and the public sector.

Enkopa Summit is here to correct this.

Most large companies, public enterprises and multinationals have innovative solutions of solving internal problems, including through intrapreneurship programs. By exhibiting these innovative solutions at the Summit, they can start a conversation with entrepreneurs and innovators.

Those entrepreneurs and innovators may localize and improve those solutions. And this is how the entrepreneur or innovator can scale, attract investment, grow, and perhaps become a unicorn.

This is how the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem can thrive.

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