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201801117 Creator Awards-finalists and semifinalists

Year one of the Creator Awards concluded last night in a blaze of glory: a pyro-filled Macklemore set, inspirational stories by the dozens, and not one but two grand prize winners taking home $1 million.

Halfway through the event, Creator Awards Global Finals host Justin Baldoni (of “Jane the Virgin” and TED Talk fame) said he doubted many in the audience had made it through the evening without shedding a tear when listening to the stories of the eight finalists. And by the end of the night, each one of them walked away with prize money to keep pursuing their visions, a surprise twist that brought one of the $1 million winners to her knees.

“My employees are now getting healthcare!” exclaimed Samantha Snabes of re:3D as the streamers and confetti floated down around her. After bootstrapping her business and taking a hit to operations when Hurricane Maria rocked Puerto Rico last year, she ended the night victorious and determined to expand the reach of her 3D printing device, Gigabot, which can use plastic water bottles to manufacture a positive out of a negative.

WeWork Creator Awards Global Finals Recap

Congratulations to all the #creatorawards global finalists. A total of $4.22M was awarded, with Global Vision 2020 and re:3D each taking home $1M. We can't wait to see the magic these companies continue to create in the world 🌎 CADUS – Redefine Global Solidarity, EyeControl, Andiamo HQ, Byte Back – DC, Eat Offbeat, Bunker Labs

Posted by WeWork on Thursday, January 18, 2018

Over the last year, WeWork has given out $10.5 million to 152 innovators with the Creator Awards, a global competition celebrating ideas with impact. The events spanned the globe, with regional events in seven cities, from Austin to Tel Aviv. The start of year two follows closely behind the finale, with the first regional event of 2018 taking place in Mexico City on Feb. 1.

“When you find your passion and bring it together with intention, magic happens,” said WeWork Co-Founder Adam Neumann in his opening speech in front of 5,000 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. “It’s that magic that brings us all here.”

Grand prize winner Global Vision 2020Besides Snabes, the other million-dollar winner was J. Kevin White of Global Vision 2020, which brings a cheap and easy way to prescribe and distribute eyeglasses. A US military veteran and proud dad, White’s two sons joined him on stage as he was stunned to win the biggest prize of the evening. White had been a semi-finalist going into the event, and was selected by the audience to move ahead to the final round. There, he faced a panel of judges in a “Shark Tank”-like Q&A session, featuring Neumann as well as Tim Ferris (4-Hour Work Week author and podcaster) and Joy Mangano (inventor of the Miracle Mop).

The prizes kept coming all night long—all other finalist took home prizes of $180,000 and up, and four special WeWork members each won $18,000 in the Community Giver category. What’s more, Daquan Oliver of WeThrive—who was a winner at the Creator Awards LA Demo Day last year—was awarded the Teamwork Award by Microsoft.

Macklemore at the Theater at Madison Square GardenThe night was full of high-energy performances, including a short set from Dram and Macklemore’s electric performance closing out the night. Keeping things pumping well past midnight (with multiple costume changes), Macklemore said he was inspired by the creativity of all the finalists, and shouted out, “Let’s hear it for technology!”

When making a case for Byte Back, which provides multi-level computer training and career preparation to underserved people, Elizabeth Lindsey brought on stage Lisa R. Brown, a woman whose life had been totally changed by the organization. “I realized six jobs would never equal one good career,” Brown said. Byte Back wound up winning $360,000. Looking back on all her organization has accomplished in the last year with the help of the Creator Awards, Lindsey said, “I can’t believe how taking the risk to submit an application back in March has changed Byte Back’s trajectory forever.”

 

Winners of the Creator Awards Global Finals

Grand Prize – $1 million

re:3D

Global Vision 2020

 

$500,000 prize

Andiamo

Cadus

Eye Control

 

$360,000 prize

Byte Back

 

$180,000 prize

Bunker Labs

Eat Offbeat

 

Microsoft Teamwork Award – $36,500

WeThrive

 

Community Giver Award

Carolyn Jensen

Felipe Barreiros

Carla Cornejo

Wes Hamilton

 

Photos by Katelyn Perry, Jacob Boynton, Foster K. White

“Ten years ago most people here did not know what this brown paste was,” says Anthony Brahimsha of the chickpea dip that is now nearly ubiquitous on menus in the U.S..

Born to Syrian parents, Brahimsha knew that hummus in the Middle East is much better than that found in American grocery stores. With the help of Mike McCloskey, owner of Select Milk Producers, the sixth largest dairy cooperative in the country, he developed a hummus called Prommus that is higher in protein –– three times that of other dips. It preserves the traditional flavor by using cold pressure, rather than heat, in the kitchen.

“What Halo Top is to ice cream and Chobani is to yogurt, we are to hummus,” Brahimsha says, by way of explaining that Prommus is also changing the industry.

The company name is a combination of the words “protein” and “hummus,” but is also a play on the word “promise.” With 1 percent of sales benefitting the World Food Program to fight global hunger, Brahimsha hopes that the product can have a significant effect on ending hunger and making nutritious foods available wherever they are needed.

Prommus cofounder Anthony Brahimsha, who has spent a lot of time on humanitarian missions, believes his hummus could help feed the world.

While the initial idea was born out of his humanitarian work in refugee camps along the Turkish/Syrian border, Brahimsha has even bigger dreams. The world needs to find more ways to make nutritious foods for people who are going hungry, and he thinks Prommus and its innovative production process are part of the solution. Two patents are currently pending.

The company’s four varieties (original, red pepper, olive, and avocado) are sold in the Midwest, primarily in Illinois and Michigan. These flavors were taste-tested by Brahimsha’s fellow members at Chicago’s WeWork River North, a community that he says has been invaluable to the startup.

“There are a lot of co-working spaces, but not everywhere is a community of social entrepreneurs who are rooting for their peers,” he says.

A winner in the business venture category at the Nashville Creator Awards, he says he’ll be able to start the next stage of expansion for his company, primarily by adding staff.

“As soon as you win this award, all the blood sweat and tears that you put into the company comes together,” he says. “Everything that you have been doing, the people that were with you along the way, finally, it feels like an affirmation that you were doing the right thing.”

 

Melanie Faye grew up in Nashville, but she doesn’t credit Music City with her success. She credits Guitar Hero. Yes, that Guitar Hero, the video game that allows players to mimic the sounds and moves of their favorite stars. For Faye, it was Michael Jackson.

“I don’t think growing up in Nashville introduced me to guitar players,” Faye says. “My parents were chemists. I was not able to go to bars and see local shows. Guitar Hero introduced me to all this music I was not exposed to. Guitar Hero looked really cool. It made me feel empowered.”

So, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Faye, now 20, has found fame via YouTube. After dropping out of college three semesters in to pursue her music career, Faye posted videos of herself sitting in her bedroom and playing covers of John Mayer and Mariah Carey.

“Guitar Hero introduced me to all this music I was not exposed to,” says Melanie Faye. “Guitar Hero looked really cool. It made me feel empowered.”

She also used the platform to debut some of her original work, which she describes as a mixture of R&B, hip hop, and pop. Her voice, serious guitar-playing chops, and friendly demeanor propelled those videos to more than 10 million views. She was so popular that the guitar company Fender tapped her to demo a new line of the instrument.

“I thought, ‘This is it! I’m viral. I made it!’ But it does not work that way,” she says. Faye makes ends meet by working at a local doughnut shop and teaches guitar. She also keeps working on her music the old-fashioned way, having been tapped to be the opening act for musicians like Noname and Mac Demarco. Her most recent gig was at the Nashville Creator Awards.

She is working on her first album, which she hopes will be out by the year’s end. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Faye has been working on Homophone for years.

“If I had known it was going to take this long,” she says, “I wouldn’t have told people it was going to be out soon.”

Faye is also working to relieve the jitters that come with performing live, rather than in front of a camera. A recent show at the Hollywood Palladium was a game changer.

“I typically am really shy and inhibited on stage. But I felt so much support and positive energy, I just let loose,” she remembers. “I think to an extent you just have to have fake confidence at first. I walked up and had a confident demeanor and once I heard crowd cheering, then I was confident.”

“It happens overnight,” Maria Vertkin says. “An immigrant moves to the U.S. and goes from being a surgeon to washing toilets.”

College degrees and professional experience from their home country don’t always mean as much as they should when an immigrant starts a new life abroad, says Vertkin. She knows from experience: She spent her childhood in Russia and Israel before immigrating to the United States. But she realized that they have one thing that will always be of use to them: their language skills.

“It doesn’t make sense if you have something as valuable as a second language to not use it,” says Vertkin, who speaks English, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Vertkin, a Boston-based social worker, wanted to help train women to use their multilingual skills to their advantage. She saw a need that they could fill in the medical field. Hospitals in Massachusetts struggled to find interpreters for their patients who aren’t native English speakers. Without interpreters, expensive and even potentially fatal medical errors are possible.

A Found in Translation graduate shows off her diploma.

“The jobs are plentiful and the demographics are shifting,” says Vertkin. “Not only do they serve the local population, but medical tourists come from other countries and they need interpreters.”

The idea was a hit with the judges of WeWork’s Nashville Creator Awards. Found in Translation took home a $72,000 prize in the nonprofit category.

In 2011, Vertkin started Found in Translation to help homeless and low-income women achieve economic security by making their language skills an asset, rather than a liability. Within a few weeks of announcing the first class, she had 200 applications.

The nonprofit offers medical interpreter certificate training as well as other interpreter programs. And the training includes more than the core curriculum — childcare, transportation, job placement, and access to mentors for professional development are also part of the program.

The 186 graduates of Found in Translation classes between 2012 and 2017 earned approximately $1.86 million cumulatively more per year than they did before enrollment. That’s about $10,000 more per person annually. She says that if she wins in the nonprofit category at the Nashville Creator Awards, she can expand the program.

Classes currently take place in Boston, where Vertkin estimates they could easily double in size with the right funding. Every city in the U.S., she says, has the potential for success with Found in Translation.

“There is opportunity and need and we are connecting them,” Vertkin says. “The biggest risk is for employers not hiring multilingual employees.”

If Janett Liriano has her way, you won’t be using your FitBit much longer.

Liriano is CEO of Loomia, a New York-based firm at the intersection of tech and fashion. The company creates “intelligent drapeable circuits” that are soft enough to be embedded into textiles and can be safely washed and dried. Instead of wearing a step tracker on your wrist, it could be embedded into your running shoes.

That’s just the beginning of what these circuits can do. Those shoes might not just track your steps, but can also measure the pressure on your feet, giving you information on how you should adjust your gait. They might heat up and keep your feet warm in winter. And a light might keep you safer on a nighttime jog.

Loomia’s CEO Janett Liriano and founder Maddy Maxey

Liriano has two patents for her product and others in the pipeline for the smart fabric-enabling circuits. Her team is working with more than 80 brands on how they can integrate the smart technology into their designs. The current emphasis is on clothing, but the flexibility of the circuit opens the door to other products in the future.

“We are category agnostic,” Liriano says. “If you can make a washable circuit, you can put it on the floor. You can put it in wallpaper.”

Liriano, who took home third place in the business ventures category at the Nashville Creator Awards, sees potential in fields ranging from medicine to transportation.

Not only can Loomia transform the ways smart devices are used, it can also change what happens to all that data once it is collected. The company is looking at ways that consumers can sell their data to interested parties — or choose not to share it.

Liriano, a “born-and-bred New Yorker,” thinks the city is the right place for the firm. It’s one of the country’s great fashion hubs, but it also has a strong startup scene.

New Yorkers are inherently scrappy and resourceful,” she says. “For a business that is not super capitalized, that’s a good network. We are hard-core hustlers.”