Infinity Plc

Sara Menker is the
Founder and CEO of Gro Intelligence

Sara Menker is the founder and CEO of Gro Intelligence. Gro structures and contextualizes the world’s agricultural data. Prior to founding Gro, Sara was a Vice President in Morgan Stanley’s commodities group. She began her career in commodities risk management, where she covered all commodity markets, and subsequently moved to trading, where she managed an options trading portfolio.

Sara is a Trustee of the Mandela Institute for Development Studies, a member of the Global Agenda Council on Africa at the World Economic Forum and an Advisory Board Member of Shining Hope for Communities. Sara was named a Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum and is a fellow of the Aspen Institute.

Sara studied Economics and African Studies at Mount Holyoke College and the London School of Economics and holds an M.B.A. from Columbia University.

Joann J. Hill
Chief of the Office of Business Development for the United States Department of Commerce

Ms. Joann J. Hill, a native of Columbia, South Carolina is the Chief of the Office of Business Development for the United States Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). Ms. Hill has served at MBDA for fifteen years and in her current capacity has oversight of the Office of Business Development. She also serves as the lead federal program officer for the nationwide network of more than 40 Business Centers that generate $6 billion in performance goals annually.

She is responsible for the creation and implementation of strategies for business development in the areas of access to capital, access to contracts, access to emerging domestic and international markets and global supply chains. Additionally, Ms. Hill facilitates stakeholder collaboration with chambers of commerce and trade associations. She engages in international business initiatives both domestically and abroad, designed to promote business to business linkages.

Ms. Hill has served as Conference Director for the National Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week Conference, the Nation’s largest federally sponsored conference on minority business enterprise. This Conference is held annually in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Hill holds a Masters of Business Administration degree from Emory University, Goizueta Business School and a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Benedict College. Prior to joining MBDA she worked in the areas of operations management, banking, and finance.

Florizelle Liser
Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa

Florizelle (Florie) Liser is the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa in the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). In this position, she leads U.S. trade efforts and investment in sub-Saharan Africa and oversees implementation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). She also leads interagency negotiation and implementation of a number of trade and investment agreements with Sub-Saharan African nations. Ms. Liser has an extensive background in trade negotiations and Africa. From 2000-2003, she served as Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Industry, Market Access, and Telecommunications. In that position, she was responsible for developing and coordinating U.S. trade policy as it affects industrial and manufacturing interests - including telecommunications, electronic commerce, steel, chemicals, forest products, semiconductors, aircraft, and shipbuilding, among others. She also coordinated industrial market access negotiations in bilateral and regional free trade agreements and in the WTO.Ms. Liser worked at the Department of Transportation from 1987-2000 as senior trade policy advisor in the Office of International Transportation and Trade. In this capacity, Ms. Liser coordinated trade and transportation issues of importance to developing countries, with a particular focus on Africa. She organized the first U.S.-Africa Transportation Ministerial, helped in developing the Safe Skies for Africa initiative, and played a key role in preparing former Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater for a number of trips to Africa. From 1980 to 1987, Ms. Liser worked in the USTR GATT Affairs office on WTO developing country trade issues, including the Committees on Trade and Development, Least Developed Countries, and Balance-of-Payments.Ms. Liser holds a M.A. in International Economics from Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and a B.A. in International Relations and Political Science from Dickinson College. She was born in Colon, Republic of Panama and raised in Brooklyn, New York.

Eleni (Hamere) Demissie
Managing Director, Actual Urban Living

Eleni (Hamere) Demissie, the founder and managing director, head designer and product development lead of Actual Urban Living, is an experienced designer with a passion for contemporary art forms particularly contemporary interior design and furniture, fashion and visual arts. Hamere brings a background in creative work, with applied design as her first career followed by sales, marketing and 20+ years’ experience in developing market-led and sustainable value chains in Asia, Africa and Europe. Her work with BRAC, TechnoServe, the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency and eleni LLC involved developing strategies to modernize and improve competitiveness of traditional agricultural commodities such as cotton, coffee, silk, wool, and leather by building strong vertical linkages from farmers to markets and services, and enhancing horizontal value chain integration in order to achieve economies of scale, capture increased value and achieve better market power for small scale producers. Hamere has also worked as a designer of furniture, accessories and apparel for many years with various companies including Conelli Fashions, Ltd in Baltimore, Winda Winda, Ltd from Hong Kong in Los Angeles, and Aarong in Bangladesh and presently as founder and Managing Director of Actual Design PLC in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She has also spent 12 years working as a business development consultant for a range of large multinational companies based in France, including for companies such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Lexmark, McDonalds, Dior, Shiseido, L’Oréal, Honda, Saint-Gobain and John Deer building capacity of executive level staff on new learnings on subjects such as supply chain management, brand building, marketing and new product development. Hamere was Chief Innovation Officer for eleni LLC a startup company based in Addis Ababa, where she was in charge of the xLab whose function was to bring human centered research and insight into the development of commodity exchanges across Africa. Hamere holds a degree in Apparel Design from the University of Maryland, College Park as well as a Master’s degree in International Policy and Comparative Development from the University of Bristol, UK.

Eric-Vincent Guichard
601 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Suite 900 – South
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 434-8341

Mr. Eric-Vincent Guichard is currently the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of GRAVITAS Capital Advisors, Inc. He is the founding member of GRAVITAS Capital (1996-current). Eric advises global and sovereign institutional assets. He runs the Sovereign Solutions Practice which includes innovative macro solutions such as the Sovereign Debt Redemption Fund Ltd and the Pension Support Fund Ltd. Eric also manages GRAVITAS’s Tactical Allocation Fund, LLC.

Since 2011 he also serves as Founder & CEO of Homestrings.com, an electronic investment platform that caters to members of the Diaspora. Homestrings.com showcases vetted investment projects and funds that focus on development objectives chosen by the Diaspora. These projects and funds range from infrastructure to healthcare.

Prior to GRAVITAS Capital, Eric was Portfolio Manager at the World Bank (1990-1996) where he also served as technical adviser to sovereign and multilateral institutions worldwide.

Eric is a graduate of the University of Dakar, in Senegal; of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh; and of the Harvard Business School, where he earned his MBA (World Bank Scholar and Harvard Fellowship award.)

He serves on several non-profit boards, including: the University of Maryland's Center for Financial Policy – an academic think tank on policy reform; and has served on the boards of Capital Partners for Education – an inner city mentorship program; and OIC International – an initiative that encourages economic self-reliance in Africa.

Eric received a 2009 Risk Innovator Award for Finance from Risk & Insurance Magazine for innovative work at GRAVITAS. In 2013 he received "Entrepreneur of the Year Award" from London-based African Diaspora Awards for successfully launching Homestrings.com. In 2014, Homestrings Ltd received "African Financier of the Year" Award from the Association of African-Owned Enterprises, UK.

Eric lectures internationally on Diaspora engagement in economic development; Institutional investments; Risk Management; Entrepreneurship; and on Corporate Strategy. He has published articles on Global Financial Markets and Regulation; Corporate Incentives and Human Behavior.

Co-founder of C-62 Communications & ENZI footwear

Azariah is the co-founder of two Ethiopian based start-up, with a background is sales and a passion for marketing and communications. Azariah first start up is C-62 Communications, which publishes the award winning Selamta magazine on behalf of Ethiopian Airlines. Shortly after launching C-62 Azariah began work on ENZI footwear, a brand focused on increasing the quality of production in Ethiopia and moving more the value chain of finished products to it's source.

Hellen Fissihaie
Social Entrepreneur and Connector

Hellen Fissihaie is a serial Social Entrepreneur and Connector focused on elevating communities and platforms that give voice to communities of color, women, youth, and entrepreneurs globally. She is the Principal at F3 Global LLC, a consulting and strategy firm focused on culture based business solutions and strategy for SMEs, governments, nonprofits, social enterprises, and educational institutions. Her passion for inspiring people can be reflected in her role as the Chair of the Black Business Subcommittee within the Economic Empowerment Committee for the NAACP DC Branch, she works to provide access to resources for black entrepreneurs in D.C. by creating a business toolkit, business directory, and entrepreneurship programs. Ms. Fissihaie co-founded Tea Time for Education to support and empower local nonprofits by gathering powerful speakers and a diverse community of women to support grassroots nonprofits that empower and educate young professionals, women, and disadvantaged communities. Previously, she co-created Project Orotta, dedicated to providing technology in support of Orotta Medical and Dental Schools in Eritrea as well as provided leadership support on a variety of programs and initiatives in D.C., Dallas, South Africa and Tanzania. She is a Startingbloc and LeadIn Fellow.

Dawit Belay
Co founder of Advantage Industrials PLC

Dawit Belay holds a Business Management Degree from the University of Washington. He started out in Seattle Washington with the beverage distribution Firm Real Soda which he purchased after working as area manager for five years. After three years Real soda’s distribution had doubled and he was able to sale it to a larger company. After the Sale of real soda he co-founded Rain Coast Water, a water purifying, packaging and delivery business in the Seattle Metropolitan area.

Advantage Industrial PLC, established in 2010, is a transformer manufacturing and maintenance company located in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. The company is dedicated to manufacture the highest quality distribution and power transformers designed and built in accordance with its clients’ needs. Its electrical engineers have over forty years of combined experience in designing transformers that conform to International Electro technical Commission (IEC) standards. Currently, Advantage is planning for expansion both in terms of increasing its existing transformers production capacity and introducing four new line of products namely: Electrical Control Panel, Water Heater, Electric Boxes and Switches, Sockets and Plugs.

Tehut Tesfaye Sidelil
CEO, Ethiopia Climate Innovation Center

Miss Sidelil is the CEO of Ethiopia Climate Innovation Center (ECIC). She first joined the ECIC as the Chief Operating Officer soon after its launch in April 2014. Prior to joining the ECIC she worked as Management Consultant advising start- ups and established businesses, strategizing for their success. She also worked as Project Manager introducing new commodities to be traded at the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange and as Special Assistant to the CEO of the Exchange, assisting the CEO in strategy and policy formulation; planning as well as coordinating the activities of the Exchange. In addition, she has had a number of years of experience as in-house management consultant in the commercial banking sector.

Miss. Sidelil has a Post Graduate International Diploma in Project Management from the University of Cambridge, UK, a Post Graduate Diploma in Management and Information Systems: Change & Development from the University of Manchester, UK, as well as Certificate on Entrepreneurship and the Executive Program from UC Davis. She has a Bachelors degree in Management from Addis Ababa University.

Tia Ayele
Co-founder of Addis Ideas

Tia Ayele is the co-founder of Addis Ideas. she is a dynamic young professional with a burning desire to create innovative development solutions in Africa. Her background includes legislative work with two United States Senators, government consulting with IMPAQ International, and an array of policy experience at international think-tanks multinational businesses, and municipal governments. She was one of 161 undergraduate students in the nation to be awarded the prestigious Boren Scholarship, where she was granted $20,000 to study and research at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. During this time, she also underwent intensive language training in Arabic and Amharic. Tia graduated from the University of Georgia’s Honors Program in 2014.

Addis Ideas is a social networking tool that crowdsources development solutions from African nationals and diaspora. Founders, Tia Ayele and Mitu Yilma, created the web application as a reaction to countless reports naming a lack of contextual knowledge as a primary reason some development solutions fail. Addis Ideas seeks to build power in African communities on -- and off -- the continent so the users can be the catalysts for the change they wish to see.


The Pioneer Award is bestowed up on Diaspora entrepreneurs who have introduced innovation(s) in business that have significantly and positively affected business practices with long-term results in Ethiopia or in the Diaspora. This year's Awards Dinner will be held on August 6, 2016 at The City View Room overlooking the City of Washington DC at The George Washington University 7.30PM to 10.30PM.

It is to be recalled that the 2015 Pioneer Ethiopian Diaspora Business Person Awards was awarded to unique and deserving individuals: Dr. Akeza Teame, Founder & Medical Director, St. Yared Hospital and the American Medical Center, and Ato Tamrat Bekele, Founder & CEO of International Clinical Laboratories. The 2016 Pioneer Ethiopian Diaspora Business Person Awards Committee will announce the winner(s) of this year's Award very soon. Stay tuned!!!

Photos: Past Events