As part of our inspirational story series about our Youth Goodwill Ambassadors, our next story covers Alexis Rhyner. An entrepreneur building up a startup- REstart Refugees- the world's first local crowdfunding platform for asylum seekers and refugees who want to activate their skills and make a living.
Alexis is our previous YGA currently participating in another Copenhagen Capacity's project: YGA Accelerator. With a background in NGOs and non-profits, translation and film production, Alexis now studying MSc in Development and International Relations at Aalborg University and is seeking to bring the potential of social enterprises to the forefront of culture.
Where are you from Alexis?
I am from United States. Most recently from Los Angeles but my family lives in Colorado. After living in various places, I began looking for a way of moving forward my life in order to make an impact. Since I couldn't afford to pursue an advanced degree in the United States, I started to research study programs all over the world. It turned out that the Masters in Development and International Relations at Aalborg University was perfect for me. This is how I moved to Denmark in Fall of 2016.
How did you decide to join the YGA program?
I like meeting new people and being in intentional communities. I saw a video about the YGA program while researching about Denmark and opportunities there. I thought that it is fantastic since it gives you the opportunity of meeting many types of people you would never be able to meet otherwise. They all seemed to be hardworking and aiming for a strong career. I believed that this was exactly where I wanted to be. Also, when you are in a new country you must try to stand out.
What about the YGAccelerator program?
I've been working on my startup idea for almost one year and a half now, therefore the opportunity of joining the accelerator program seemed to be a natural fit. We explored different concepts such as mindset, customer validation, systematizing how we work through our assumptions, and built a strong community with other international students here in Denmark.
What is your startup about?
REstart Refugees is a social-economic company. It is the first world's local crowdfunding platform specifically designed for refugees and asylum seekers.
Many may already know about Kickstarter, which focuses a lot on films, arts and media. It is also very global but they have no connection to the local community. With REstart we encourage local backing. Let's take the example of someone from Copenhagen supporting an entrepreneur in Copenhagen. This creates a circular economy and gets everybody involved in it. Also, it takes away a lot of pressure from governments because they do not have enough resources to manage the challenge we face together. There are so many refugees with an incredible amount of entrepreneurial talent seeking a way to start up, but they don't have access to funding. At the same time, there are a lot of people who want to support refugees but they don't have a way to make a meaningful impact in the life of someone in their communities so it's a natural fit.
We are currently working a lot on networking to find out what it looks like because no one has ever created a local platform like this. I am trying to figure out logistics and legalities and putting the team together. We will be launching the platform in few months. The YGA Accelerator and facilitators are helping me a lot in this process.
How did YGA Accelerator helped you to develop your idea?
It helped me a lot. Starting a company is pretty much about validation and making sure that there is a market for what you want to do. We can all have genial ideas but if you don't dialogue directly to the market then you won't know if you'e creating something that people want. You must talk to people, test, and make sure that there is a need. Facilitators are great in helping me to take the emotion of starting a company out of the process. We can look at various parts of businesses in a very analytical way. For example, creating experiments for validations whether it proves or disproves our assumptions about the market. It's fantastic to get coaching and expand our network.
As a foreigner how difficult is it to start the company in Denmark?
Technically, it is easy to start a company in Denmark. It takes around 15 minutes and less than 700 DKK. However, some studies have shown that only 4% of Danes want to open a company whereas close to 80 % of internationals want to open a company in Denmark. Therefore, this represents another opportunity for internationals.
What could you recommend for students that would like to pursue new project or a company?
- Find the good Danish support system that knows what you don't about Denmark and Danish culture.
- Find people that could complement your weaknesses.
- Then validate, validate, validate.