Startup is making children’s books accessible online, while supporting refugees

Andreas von Sachsen-Altenburg with his little sister Julia in a bookstore in Germany.Andreas von Sachsen-Altenburg

Q: How did you come up with this idea?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: I was back in Germany with my family when I was with my half-sister, who was 9 at the time, and had just moved there from Georgia (the country). I’d bring her to bookstores there, but we didn’t always actually purchase a book. She was just learning German as her second language from her, and she would quickly advance to the next level or simply get bored with reading the same book — like most kids. At the same time, while around the rest of my family, she was learning English, so she was trying to learn two different languages ​​at the same time. I looked for resources for her, but it was difficult to find anything in German, especially for a Georgian. I could find resources in English, but they were expensive.

I knew she couldn’t be the only one struggling: Germany is a diverse country, where many Syrian, Afghan refugees, now Ukrainian refugees, and others are resettling. Many of those adults have children with them, who are in a new country where they don’t speak the language and now have to learn it. If you go to another country where your language isn’t supported, especially as a child, it makes learning in school nearly impossible. Julia made me aware of this problem, so it became our problem. And I built my own solution.

Q: How does Storytime Online work?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: It’s really easy to use, which was the key. The point is to allow a child to use this technology on their own, even as young as 3. After choosing a language and reading level, various book covers are displayed, and then the child can flip through the pages of the book online. You can either read the book to the child, clicking through the pages on your own, or you can have a narrator read the book to the child by clicking the play buttons. You can also alter the language of each book in any of the other languages ​​that it is available in.

An inside page of “A Beautiful Day,” which is currently available in English, Spanish, and German.Storytime Online

Q: Which languages ​​are currently available on Storytime Online?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: The languages ​​that are currently on deck or in development include English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese (European and Brazilian), Armenian, Georgian, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Ukrainian, Arabic (Modern Standard), Kurdish, Pashto, Persian (Farsi/Dari), Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu.

Q: Who is your target audience?

Kids that are about 3 to about 10 years old. In the future, we might include graphic novels and comics. But right now, it’s predominantly early-childhood education to about fourth or fifth grade. While anyone can use Storytime Online, I’m hoping it bridges a gap for migrant populations, refugees, and multicultural families.

Q: How much does it cost to use Storytime Online?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: For unlimited access to all languages, it’s an average of $5 each month. It’s designed to be affordable, even in developing countries.

Q: How do you get authors and artists to be on the platform?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: Our model for authors and creators is similar to Spotify for artists. You get published and then get royalties, not just for that one language that you wrote the book in, but in all the languages ​​I get it translated and narrated in. But this also multiplies their reach to other cultural markets without doing any additional work.

Also, all authors, designers, illustrators, translators, and narrators get credit for being part of this effort right on the book’s landing page. If your child wants to continue reading a book from one particular author or narrator, then you can click on the person’s profile to see what other books they worked on. (Here’s an example of one narrator’s page.)

The cover page for the book “Sing to Me” by Nicole Levin on Storytime Online.Storytime Online

Q: Who is translating and narrating these books into other languages?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: They are paid contractors. But I prioritize refugees. All they need is a smartphone with a relatively good microphone and a space with no background noise to narrate a book.

Q: How are you identifying global refugees to work with Storytime Online?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: Various ways. I just started working with a digital skills and marketing firm in the UK that trains and employs refugees in Africa. Also, the CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center (also known as the CIC) recently sent out a newsletter about the company’s initiatives to support Ukraine during the war, and I replied to it regarding Storytime Online. I was connected with a CIC director in Poland and he was able to put me in touch with more translators.

Also, I developed a partnership with the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America and they have a network of thousands of migrants. Right now, I’m prioritizing Ukrainian narrations and translations, but also working with Ukrainian refugees to support them during this time. With the League’s help, I’m looking to quickly translate and narrate 100 stories in Ukrainian.

Q: How does Storytime Online fit into your background?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: I mostly grew up in Germany, where learning another language was much different than here in the US. I took Spanish classes in both Germany and in the US, but I actually learned Spanish in Germany. In Germany, you’re not just learning for the next test, you’re learning to become fluent. I graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 2018 where I studied entrepreneurship. I founded two other startups since then.

Storytime Online is a Germany/Rhode Island-founded ed-tech platform by Andreas von Sachsen-Altenburg.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Q: Have you received funding?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: I received an innovation grant from the German government for 12,000 euros (about $13,050 in US currency), which has gotten me pretty far. I’ve used some of my own savings (von Sachsen-Altenburg also builds websites for various clients and businesses. He does not pay himself from Storytime Online.)

Q: Who else is helping you develop Storytime Online?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: I don’t have any employees. While in Germany, I applied for a number of incubator programs and received little or no feedback other than the fact that it was not “high tech” or AI-related, which is really what Germany is focused on right now. I was back in the US during the summer of 2021 and was introduced to the CIC here in Providence (where Globe Rhode Island also has an office) and RIHub. Through RIHub’s Venture Mentoring Service (a nonprofit providing business consulting at no cost to entrepreneurs), I’ve received guidance and surrounded myself around other entrepreneurs.

Q: What are some of your long-term goals for Storytime Online?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: In three to five years, I want an educational or publishing platform, that has more knowledge in this space than I, to take it over but while never forgetting the mission. The business model is shaped around this mission, which is making children’s books accessible to all. Why doesn’t that exist already?

The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at

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