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A-Wa performs Tel Aviv Creator Awards

“Let’s throw inspiration around like it’s confetti!” read the gigantic poster, the last message people took in before heading home after a surprising night at the Tel Aviv Creator Awards. An hour earlier, confetti had rained on all of our heads as Dror Tamir bagged the grand prize in the Scale category, for—get this—growing grasshoppers.

In his one-minute presentation, Tamir, co-founder of Hargol FoodTech (“hargol” means “grasshopper” in Hebrew), the world’s first commercial grasshopper farmer, convinced the judges and the audience that this seemingly disgusting insect is the protein source of the future.

“Grasshoppers are the most widely eaten insect in the world, being considered a delicacy in Africa, Asia, and Central America,” Tamir told the crowd of 3,500. Be that as it may, convincing the Western world to digest grasshoppers is no small feat, and for this, Hargol FoodTech received $360,000.

Tamir laid out two goals he intends to achieve with his winnings: to increase production capacity to meet the demand and to accelerate the development of grasshopper farms across Africa. Tamir’s vision is far-reaching, and he hopes to “provide a healthier and more sustainable protein while providing employment and additional income to locals.”

Hargol and the 19 other winners took home more than $1.3 million Thursday night at the sixth regional Creator Awards event. The global competition, which started this year when WeWork committed more than $20 million to fund innovative projects around the world, heads to New York City next on Nov. 16, and the global finals will take place in January 2018.


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Even though Hargol was the evening’s big winner, the international fare served at the Tel Aviv Creator Awards did not include any insect products. Once the doors of the Tel Aviv Convention Center opened at 5 p.m., the casually dressed crowd happily nibbled on Thai chicken, Indian curry, Italian bruschetta, and British fish and chips, before the ceremony started. On the left—a pop-up market full of handmade wares, offering everything from Dollka’s handmade cushions inspired by Russian Matryoshka dolls to Kalimba’s ethnic musical instruments. On the right—a job fair where you could potentially find high-tech employment or a job at the US Embassy. In the middle—many culinary options as well as stalls serving beer that is inspiration in itself: behind Israel-based Jem’s Beer lies the story of an American expatriate who realized his own personal dream.

And in the large back hall—a series of masterclasses, including a futuristic keynote from the man who became synonymous with electric cars, Shai Agassi, and a discussion on contemporary design with Danish celebrity architect Bjarke Ingels, Israeli fashion designer Sharon Tal from Maskit, and Nir Zohar from Israel’s cloud-based web development platform Wix.

Excitement grew as the visibly pregnant Israeli model Adi Neumann—WeWork Co-founder Adam Neumann’s sister and greatest champion—took the main stage in a white evening gown to host the ceremony. Soon she invited her famous brother on stage. “Israel is special,” he said of his native country as he delivered his speech in Hebrew. “We’re called ‘startup nation’ for a reason. Everybody here has energy. Everybody here has love. People here do things from the heart.”

“We’re called ‘startup nation’ for a reason. Everybody here has energy. Everybody here has love. People here do things from the heart.”

Neumann spoke of his childhood in Israel, one of moving around a lot and always being the new kid in class, as well as his first five years in New York City, in which his sister supported him financially.

“But I always felt part of a community, and that community is called Israel,” he said. “We are so lucky to have this. Sometimes we don’t even know it.” With this sense of community, Neumann built WeWork. The theme of community was also prevalent in the intimate discussion about family and creativity that Neumann held on stage with Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen.

WeWork Co-founder and Israeli Rock Star in conversation
Adam Neumann and Aviv Geffen

Apart from the grasshopper sensation and Neumann and Geffen’s one-on-one, the evening’s favorite was undoubtedly a fresh-faced entrepreneur named Yasmin Dunsky. Together with Noga Mann, Dunsky founded the nonprofit QueenB, an organization that teaches young girls hardcore coding. QueenB uses a teaching method created especially for Generation Z girls, with lessons taught by female computer science students that act as mentors for the teenage girls and achieve a deep personal connection with them. The whole crowd fell in love with Dunsky, who delivered her pitch wearing shorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “I teach code.” Her impressive pitch earned QueenB a $72,000 prize in the Launch category.

Yasmin Dunsky of QueenB

“We recently completed our first year of activity in which we operated in Jerusalem, reached hundreds of teenagers in the city and offered scholarships for students from the Hebrew University,” Dunsky said with a beaming smile. “The Creator Awards prize will allow us to expand to other areas in Israel by opening activity centers in each of the four big universities.”

Her partner, Mann, added: “What I love about QueenB is that we don’t only teach girls how to code but also teach them how to take on challenges and face them, something that we believe will give them an advantage, no matter what they will do later in life.”

Photos by Eyal Marilus

 

Winners of the 2017 Tel Aviv Creator Awards

Scale

Hargol FoodTech (for profit) – $360,000

She Codes (nonprofit) – $180,000

Tovanot B’Hinuch (nonprofit) – $180,000

 

Launch

Eyefree Assisting Communication (for profit) – $130,000

ReSymmetry (for profit) – $72,000

Voiceitt (for profit) – $72,000

QueenB (nonprofit) – $72,000

Itworks (nonprofit) – $72,000

 

Incubate

Blue Fairy Med (for profit) – $18,000

Collective Onya (nonprofit) – $18,000

Eyegetby (for profit) – $18,000

FT Fashion Tape (for profit) – $18,000

HackJLM by Made in JLM (nonprofit) –  $18,000

Nationlab (artist) – $18,000

RenewSenses (for profit) – $18,000

Siraj Technologies (for profit) – $18,000

Synesthesia (artist) – $18,000

 

Community Giver Award

Adopt a Safta – $36,000

Assaf Luxembourg – $36,000

Elevation Academy – $18,000

 

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“I was the butt of many jokes,” says Jiliang Ma, an entrepreneur based in Suzhou, a Chinese city about 90 minutes west of Shanghai.

When he saw a friend lose a baby late in her pregnancy, he got the idea for a fetal monitoring device. Friends teased him because he wasn’t even married, let alone a father, but he persevered.

Three years later, Ma’s wife Rebecca and 15,000 other pregnant women around China have used his device called Modoo, which tracks their babies’ development. The device — a flat, cordless disc that attaches to a mother’s belly with silicone gel stickers — measures fetal heart rate and other vital stats, and relays the information via a smartphone app.

Modoo inventor Jiliang Ma celebrates with his wife Rebecca and son Yoyo.

The device also monitors the strength of a baby’s kicks. The name Modoo is adapted from the company’s Chinese name Meng Dong, which means “adorable performance” or “cute kick.”

“During my wife’s pregnancy, she used my product every day,” says the 29-year-old entrepreneur. “I got data instantly on my mobile phone. I could see how hard the baby kicked, his heartbeat.”  

Even though he was traveling a lot for business during his wife’s pregnancy, Ma was happy that he could help monitor the progress of his son Yoyo. Ma laughs as he recalls one time when Yoyo’s kicks became quite intense: “I said to her, ‘He kicked you too hard. We are going to have to kick his ass after he comes out!’”

Modoo inventor Jiliang Ma jumps for joy when he wins at the Shanghai Creator Awards.

Modoo connects to an app that allows users to share data via social media sites like WeChat and Weibo. Ma says that makes it easy to help family and friends feel more connected.

At the Shanghai Creator Awards, sponsored by WeWork, Ma and his company took home the Business Venture award. Ma’s first reaction when he won the $360,000 grand prize was to jump for joy. The award, Ma said, “gives me confidence and energy to compete more.”

He also expressed his gratitude to his team of 30, which is based out of Beijing’s WeWork Wangjing. “I know how hard it has been for all of us these past three years,” he says. “We all work 20 hours a day. I’m really thankful to them.”

The prize money, he said, will help the company expand into new markets like Canada and the United States. But first he wants to take a while to savor the moment.

“I’m going to stare at the trees, the lakes, and then visualize our next step — New York — and beyond that, how we will conquer the world!”

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Nick Lim understands firsthand the life-changing power of a pair of pants.

Growing up in a humble household in Singapore, Lim loved singing but was unable to participate in school concerts because he didn’t have the right clothes. When he was 10 years old, his choir teacher asked him to meet her after school. They visited a shop where she purchased him a pair of slacks and a crisp white shirt.

Recalling that moment more than three decades later, Lim says his teacher’s generosity “allowed me to express myself onstage and develop self-respect.” It was occasional moments like this throughout his life, he says, that restored his faith in humanity.

“When you grow up poor in a dysfunctional family, you think the world is cruel,” he says. “You grow up thinking, ‘Why is the world so unfair?’ Every once in a while someone helped me though they had no obligation to, and that made me look at the world with a different perspective.”

Lim says those acts of kindness helped him stay on track at school and succeed as an investment banker. But as he excelled in his career, he began to question his life’s value.

WeWork Shanghai
At the Shanghai Creator Awards, Nick Lim accepts his prize from WeWork founder Adam Neumann.

“At the end of the day, we only live once,” he says. “What am I put on this world for? Definitely not to make as much money as possible.”

Five years ago he started baosquared, an organization that collects used clothing and other items and sends it to needy children in rural China. It also partners with brands like Vans to make sure their surplus merchandise doesn’t go into incinerators or landfills. So far it has helped 4,596 children.

“If people could help me the way they did and push me in the right direction,” he asks, “why couldn’t I do it for someone else?”

 The organization takes care to distribute only clothing that is not torn, stained, or otherwise damaged.

“You don’t want to give children something that makes them feel devalued,” he says. “If you give them something nice, it makes them feel loved. Checking a piece of clothing takes an extra 20 seconds, but makes a huge difference. If they grow up to be kind, generous, and loving, then we have a better chance.”

The same person who wore his first formal suit to perform with his school choir took the stage in front of hundreds of people at the Shanghai Creator Awards to receive the WeWork Community Giver award. The event celebrates and provides funding to innovators and entrepreneurs who are making an impact on their communities.

“It’s great to know there is an organization out there like WeWork looking for guys like us and shows its appreciation to little guys doing what we’re doing,” he says.

Lim feels that he’s helping to change the world one child at a time.

“When I visit the children, they try to show their appreciation,” Lim says. “I say to them: ‘What I would like you to do instead of thanking me is to someday when you are in the position to help someone, pay it forward.’”

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Kate Wang’s daughter Tingting loves to sing, socialize, and meet new friends. She also loves makeup, often taking herself to the hair or nail salon. She is like any other 25-year-old girl living in Nanning City in Guangxi, in southern China — except that when Tingting goes out, she does so by electric wheelchair.

Tingting was born with cerebral palsy, a muscle disorder that in China is considered an illness, rather than a disability. Wang struggled to find appropriate long-term resources and support networks for her daughter.

“People think of children as angels,” said Wang, “but when they see a disabled child or a family with a disabled child, they think of it as a burden or even a disaster.”

When Tingting was rejected by local public schools, Wang and her husband, Lvijiang Li, started AngelHouse, which provides housing, physical training, education, and counseling for around 90 children and young adults with cerebral palsy.

“I want to tell everyone that children with disabilities are still angels,” Wang said.

When it was started in 2002, the nonprofit encountered a host of unexpected challenges. As disabled children are sometimes considered bad luck in China, neighbors petitioned to evict AngelHouse from one of its locations. They’ve had to move five times in the last 16 years.

AngelHouse founder Kate Wang: “I want to tell everyone that children with disabilities are still angels.”

Relying on her family for childcare, Wang tried to balance the nonprofit and her work as a TV reporter. She was left with no time for herself or her daughter. “I was not only very tired,” she said, “but also very conflicted.”

But this period didn’t last long. “I was sure my daughter needed this, and others like her needed it,” Wang said. “Without AngelHouse, they didn’t have a future.”

When Wang swept both the Nonprofit and the Audience Choice awards at WeWork’s Shanghai Creator Awards, it was the culmination of her hard work over the past 16 years. “When I looked down at those two awards in my hands, so many images came to mind — the work of so many years, the faces of our AngelHouse children,” she said.

Winning the Audience Choice Award was particularly momentous. “That one felt amazing,” Wang said. “And it was such a surprise.”

AngelHouse started as a means for Wang and Li to do good for those in need. But today, after having helped thousands of children and families, Li says that she herself has been the ultimate beneficiary. “I can’t say that I’ve helped them,” she said. “It’s more accurate to say that they’ve helped me.”

Just after winning, Wang talked to her daughter and received yet another gift. Tingting exclaimed, “Thank you, Mom! Your efforts keep reenergizing us, and you always keep reenergizing me.”

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The inaugural Shanghai Creator Awards took place in a massive former aircraft factory transformed into an art exhibition space, the West Bund Art Center. The entire area along Shanghai’s southern waterfront was developed seemingly overnight five years ago as part of the city’s ambitious plans to kick-start its arts scene onto the global stage.

WeWork, a network offering space, community, and physical and virtual services that currently has physical locations in 21 countries, was introduced to China less than two years ago but aims to move in a similarly explosive and transformative way. The scale and energy of the company’s signature event, the Creator Awards –– which celebrates entrepreneurs, nonprofits, community leaders, and performing artists –– was testament to the likewise outsized dreams, plans, and successes of the featured entrepreneurs from China, as well as to WeWork’s unprecedented growth in the country. It was a night that celebrated, as Shanghai itself often manifests, the glimmering vision of the future.

Here are the biggest, best, most touching, and most awkward moments of the night.

Best swag: Original T-shirts emblazoned with the night’s logo “Created in China,” available from a live screen-printing station run by Shanghai’s IB Print Club. Created in China and right in front of your eyes (drying made more expeditious via a hand-held hair dryer.)

Tiniest item for sale at the pop-up market: Jelly, billed as the world’s smallest smartphone –– about as compact as a deck of cards.

Best reason to freshen up your LinkedIn profile: A crowd lined up for free professional headshots offered by WeWork’s photography team at the job fair, best selves delivered to inboxes that very night.

Members of the Yuedong Jumprope troupe amazed the audience.

Dream job for Netflix bingers at the job fair: Writer for Pink Koala, a feature film screenwriting company.

Dream jobs for the fashionista at the job fair: Farfetch, Lululemon, Yoox Net-a-Porter, NuSkin Beauty, and Coty were marketing dozens of positions.

Most relaxed: Lululemon, the global athletic wear company that houses offices in Shanghai’s WeWork Weihai Lu, set up a dome in the far corner where visitors were invited to try out meditative VR programs.

Highest torque: William Li, founder, chairman, and CEO of NIO Car, which produces premium electric and autonomous vehicles as well as sports cars. In a master class on mobility, Li, the oft-monikered “Elon Musk of China,” said that mobility was a matter of space, speed, and time. “Cars have thus far given people access to more space more quickly, and the next transformation in transportation would give back to people the time and freedom to do what they want to do [instead of driving].” Li also pointed out that taxi drivers are facing stiff competition with new ride sharing apps, as many drivers are illegally sharing licenses. “Don’t do illegal things in the name of ‘sharing’ or ‘doing social good,’” he urged.

Best selfie: Taken in the middle of the selfie-hungry crowd by Li and NIU Technologies founder Token Hu. In the photo are the smiling faces that master class moderator Chen Yao of IDEO called “the godfather and the genius” of China’s startup scene.

WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann (right) walked onto the main stage to kick off the night with “Shalom Shanghai!”

Biggest gauntlet thrown: WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann walked onto the main stage to kick off the night with “Shalom Shanghai!” After announcing in passing the news about WeWork’s acquisition of Chinese-based community-based shared workspace and lifestyle brand naked Hub, he issued a challenge: “I’ve got a message to every global company on the earth: If you’re not in China, you don’t exist.”

Most tear-inducing scene: AngelHouse’s founder Kate Wang, who started a nonprofit that provides housing, education, and care for children with cerebral palsy, brought the audience to tears when she introduced the reason for her project: her daughter, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and couldn’t find entry into normal public schools in Guangxi. “Because this wouldn’t have happened without her, I can also say that my daughter is a creator,” she said.

Most awkward comment from a judge: “You look like a teenager,” Mary Ma, CEO of fashion company Maryma Haute Couture, said about the youthful appearance of 33-year-old Nonprofit finalist Jie Xiao, founder of E.G.G. Walkathon.

Most acrobatic: Performing arts winner Yuedong Jumprope gave an athletic performance of jump rope tricks, flips, and moves set to dance music. The crowd let out a collective gasp and then a cheer when two members grabbed another by the arms and legs, swinging her around like a human jump rope.

Toughest grilling: Business Venture finalist Jiliang Ma of Extant Future, which produces the Modoo fetus monitoring device, was peppered with questions from the two female judges –– and mothers –– Angela Dong, GM and VP of Nike Greater China, and Mary Ma.

Kate Wang of AngelHouse swept up both the Nonprofit as well as the Audience Choice awards.

Biggest winners: Ma’s Modoo took home the Business Venture award, and Kate Wang of AngelHouse swept up both the Nonprofit as well as the Audience Choice awards. Wang, who previously told WeWork that she felt she had been “preparing for this moment for 16 years,” was overcome with emotion at the unexpected windfall, throwing her fist into the air in a jubilant gesture.

Catchiest catchphrase: “Created in China” was the big slogan of the night, plastered in oversized letters on the walls as guests arrived, projected onto the screen in the auditorium, and live screen-printed on swag. To those who say China lacks creativity, the night served as an in-your-face challenge to the hackneyed label.

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