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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

 

“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.”