Meet the Philly Entrepreneur Who Traveled to Kenya with President Obama

Elissa Bloom is bringing plenty of lessons back home.

Elissa Bloom's credentials for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.

Elissa Bloom’s credentials for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.

You may have heard that President Barack Obama visited Kenya last week. You may not know that Philadelphia businesswoman Elissa Bloom went on the trip as well to offer her take on how entrepreneurs can navigate the changing startup world.

The executive director of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, Bloom’s organization helps “teach the business side of fashion” — which is often overlook because people are so focused on style and design.

Bloom spoke at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi — where more than 1,000 entrepreneurs and business leaders from 120 countries met to share ideas about the global marketplace. Bloom said she learned plenty about the way African entrepreneurship works. For example, a group of African angel investors discussed how they never invest in companies that don’t have a proof of concept or rely on grant money. In the United States, investment comes at all business phases.

During her four-day stay, Bloom also learned that a lot of Africans are turning to entrepreneurship to get ahead. She met a Kenyan woman who launched a burger café and a gym; an economic development leader from Johannesburg; and two sisters from Rwanda running a clothing accessories business.

Now back in Philly, Bloom echoed what the president said in his address to the Summit — that the barrier of entry to start a business is vastly diminished, and the playing field is leveling. (Bloom didn’t get a chance to meet Obama because security was tight.)

“There is an incredible opportunity for anybody around the world to start a business — anybody with a laptop can create an app,” said Bloom. “I met a guy who produced a YouTube show and it went viral. He got 900,000 hits. There is so much opportunity for people across the globe to launch a businesses with little money.”

In one panel, she was the only businessperson representing the fashion industry. In another, she was the only non-African.

She also visited the Maisha Collective, a project of the nonprofit Heshima Kenya, where refugees from Somalia, Congo and elsewhere are not only taught to create scarves and other clothing, they’re offered emotional and psychological support as well. They even learn tech, math and reading skills so they can learn to run their own businesses.

“I think that’s something that can be modeled in American cities where we help women and veterans,” she said. “It’s a whole holistic 365-degree approach.”

Bloom will be taking plenty of the lessons learned back to the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator (which as graduated 15 companies since its launch in 2012.)

“I’ve been so inspired by learning about all the incredible businesses and people that I never would have met without going on the trip,” she said. “Now, I’m going to share that knowledge with our designers and community. To take it the next step further, I hope to create a dialogue so that we can continue to collaborate with these companies.”

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