ASU alum uses global mindset in entrepreneurship
Growing up on an expansive farm in rural Arkansas, Sophie Aigner had an interest in other cultures from a very early age. It is only natural, then, that in her career the Arizona State University global studies alum would have a global mindset.
Though her career has taken her all around the world, Aigner got her start in Tempe, Arizona. Originally a Spanish major, Aigner changed her focus to global studies during her sophomore year at ASU.
“I decided that I wanted a degree that would allow me to study a more diverse list of topics,” Aigner said. “Global studies was a relatively new program and designed in a quite flexible manner. I was able to partner with professors to design my own specialized courses focused around an area of study.”
As a global studies major, Aigner took classes that gave her an informed perspective on how the global economy works. She also found opportunities outside the classroom that proved just as useful, joining study abroad programs to give her a firsthand look at the subjects she was learning.
Aigner was selected for the highly competitive Critical Languages Scholarship, a scholarship funded by the U.S. Department of State, allowing her to travel to Indonesia. This allowed her to learn the Indonesian language and gain invaluable experience abroad.
“These are the kind of opportunities that you get when attending a large, diverse school such as ASU,” Aigner said.
Despite her numerous accomplishments as an undergraduate, Aigner was still deciding how she wanted to make her impact after graduating from ASU in 2012.
After working in Los Angeles for a short time, her mentor suggested that she pursue a fellowship with Kiva, an international nonprofit that uses crowdfunding to expand financial access to underserved communities. Through this, Aigner was able to spend four months in Mozambique and one month in South Africa, familiarizing herself with micro-financing while laying the grounds for a career in the region.
“This was the opportunity I needed to get my foot in the door to the southern African region, which led to a longer-term role,” Aigner said.
Her next opportunity would be with International Development Enterprises (iDE) as a business development associate. Through this capacity, Aigner wrote grants to help iDE work to solve systemic poverty through business.
Arizona State University global studies alum Sophie Aigner with the Lima Links team in Zambia.Photo courtesy of Sophie Aigner
Aigner with her Indonesian host family while on the Critical Language Scholarship.Photo courtesy of Sophie Aigner
Aigner in Belgium.Photo courtesy of Sophie Aigner
Aigner in Baalbek, Lebanon.Photo courtesy of Sophie Aigner
Aigner in Rio de Janeiro.Photo courtesy of Sophie Aigner
Aigner visiting Mount Nyiragongo, an active stratovolcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.Photo courtesy of Sophie Aigner
While with iDE, one of the pilots that caught the eye of Aigner most was a platform that connected farmers to markets. She crafted a business plan, treating the project as if it were a startup and secured enough donors keep the pilot alive. In 2016 Lima Links was born.
A Zambian Agri-Tech Company, Lima Links assists small-scale farmers in accessing markets to sell their products. Through her entrepreneurship, Aigner has combined her passion of helping people with her professional experience.
“I believe that the small-scale farmer has for far too long been on the periphery of agricultural growth; to be central to agricultural growth and not on the periphery, we need to ‘do business differently.’ This is the purpose of Lima Links,” Aigner said in an interview with Africa News Online.
After four years with Lima Links, Aigner decided it was time for a change, so in in 2019, she parterned with her mom, Vickie Aigner, to develop Alive, Fit & Free.
At the time, Vickie Aigner was a fitness instructor at senior living facilities. Aigner brought her skills as a social tech entrepreneur to create a virtual community where people of any age around the world could participate in live experiences.
“We had chatted for years about the possibilities, I could clearly see the business opportunity and I was passionate about creating a new business model that helps creatives (fitness instructors, virtual tour guides, etc.) step out of the traditional gig-economy model and earn good livelihoods while bringing diverse engaging experiences to those most affected by loneliness and isolation,” Aigner said in an Authority Magazine article.
According to Aigner, her degree in global studies created opportunities for her to connect with hundreds of people across the world. Through those connections, she has partnered with international tour guides so that the online community with Alive, Fit & Free can experience places such as Indonesia, Italy, Mongolia, Brazil, the Netherlands and more.
“Bringing these virtual travel experiences to life for our community is so heart-warming, as many of them are past the age where they can comfortably travel abroad and didn’t think it would be possible to continue to explore the world.”
Using her global connections, Aigner has been able to diversify her team, source service providers from other countries and bring in funding with investment firms abroad.
“My degree at ASU opened up the door to these opportunities, and I continue to see the results of that degree today,” she said.
Building businesses from scratch can be a difficult and daunting task. Aigner encouranges those who have interest in entrepreneurship to portray 100 percent confidence in their idea and make networking a priority.
“Relationships are key to building a business, and you never know when someone may be in a role to help you achieve your next milestone — so connect with as many people as possible whenever you can.”
Cormac Doebbeling contributed to this story.