ELab Spotlight: Bright Citizen

Elaha Mahboob, a second year MPA, is a social entrepreneur (and a past winner of Forbes 30U30 in 2018) focusing on women's empowerment and creating tech infrastructure that supports women and children to improve their lives in developing countries. Elaha studied computer science for her undergraduate studies in Afghanistan and is currently a graduate student at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. At Cornell, Elaha is focusing on studying science, technology and infrastructure policy.

Bright Citizen, a brand-new start-up recently established in New York City, features a unique coffee blended with saffron. Bright Citizen has committed itself to producing an innovative saffron-infused coffee product that creates social impact. Elaha Mahboob, MPA '19, and her sister, Roya Mahboob, of Digital Citizen fund (DCF), a nonprofit that provides technology access and education to teenage girls in developing countries, are the co-founders of Bright Citizen. After Elaha Mahboob founded Digital Citizen with her sister, she began work on her current startup, Bright Citizen, in 2018.

Bright Citizen focuses on creating a sustainable future by giving 50% of its profit back to Digital Citizen Fund, while also generating employment and commerce in the developing world for the regions from which they procure saffron. Furthermore, Bright Citizen’s sourcing of saffron from Afghanistan helps Afghan women farmers to be financially independent, a cornerstone around which Elaha built Bright Citizen. By giving 50% of profit back to DCF, Bright Citizen provides women with the skills to advance professionally in male-dominated environments.

Elaha chose saffron because when seeking a local Afghanistan product, she came across saffron, a predominantly female-farmed crop, and decided it was the perfect fit. An exciting choice, the selection of saffron would allow her to create a high-quality product of new value. Saffron is one of the world's most delicious spices, treasured for its golden color and rich, distinct flavor. Bright Citizen’s coffee infused with saffron helps to increase antioxidant absorption and boost health while supporting local economies and female empowerment.

Elaha applied to eLab in search of advisors and mentors, as well as an entrepreneurial environment in which she could also learn from the experiences and challenges of other startups. Thus far, eLab has been a very collaborative experience, and Elaha says that the mentorship she has received, and lessons learned from others’ experiences have been essential and valuable.

Social entrepreneur, Elaha is currently working with Ph.D. food science students to run a sensory evaluation of her coffee and working with the Cornell Food Venture Center to develop her next product: hot chocolate. She chose chocolate because it works excellently with saffron and complements coffee as well. She is currently working with Cornell food scientists and her long term plan is to create an entire line of saffron products, and have large-scale distribution in cities such as New York. Upon graduation, Elaha will continue working on the startup while also seeking funding.

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