It was a wicker basket that started it all for entrepreneur Emily Mathieson. A beautiful hand-made wicker basket, to be exact, one that she bought at a craft fair near her home at a stall run by a charity working with vulnerable adults.
“It was the only one they’d sold that day, and I just thought there was something wrong here,” she says. “I knew that what they needed was a wider platform. That would mean more revenue for their charity, a boost in self-esteem for the makers.”
Mathieson, a former journalist who wrote about luxury travel, had always dreamed of owning a shop, and she realized that this was the opportunity she’d been waiting for. Aerende, her online store selling upmarket housewares made by people in the UK facing social challenges, was born.
A win at the upcoming London Creator Awards—Aerende is a finalist in the nonprofit category of the awards sponsored by WeWork—would mean a cash prize and the opportunity to scale up her social enterprise in an unprecedented way.
“Even the smallest prize that they have would make a huge difference,” says Mathieson, who wants to work with more artisans and break into the lucrative wedding market, among other expansion goals.
Taking place on Oct. 25 at London’s Printworks, this is the second incarnation for the awards in the capital city. As well as an award for nonprofit organizations with a prize of up to $130,000, there is one for new business ventures, for which the winner could take home $360,000. And performing artists are competing for up to $72,000.
The London awards are just one of a number of Creator Award ceremonies taking place across the world in 2018, in cities like Shanghai, Mexico City, Nashville, and Jerusalem. Established in 2017, the awards have given away millions of dollars in funding to entrepreneurs ranging from newly minted startups to well-established companies.
Aerende isn’t the only company with a conscience on the list of finalists in London this year, and it isn’t the only enterprise hoping to use prize money to scale. Chloë Stewart runs Nibs Etc, a business that fights food waste by manufacturing food products—crackers, granola, brownies, and banana bread—from juice pulp, a byproduct of the juice industry that would otherwise be thrown away.
“I’d love to build the team,” says Stewart, a solo entrepreneur who divides her time among her base at WeWork Bishopsgate, a shared commercial kitchen where she works on her recipes, and Borough Market, where she sells her wares once a week. She’s also on the hunt for co-manufacturers so she can increase supply to meet the considerable demand for her products.
Stewart is also keen to invest in packaging that is more reflective of the values of her business.
“I’m on the hunt for something that is either fully recyclable, biodegradable, or reusable,” she says. “That would be key for selling the products on shelves. I would love to bring the brand to life through the packaging.”
Rachael Corson and Joycelyn Mate, co-founders of natural hair care manufacturer Afrocenchix, find themselves in a similar position to Stewart, unable to meet demand and, according to Corson, “having to say no to businesses that want to stock us.”
Created for people with curly or kinky hair seeking an alternative from mainstream hair care products full of harsh chemicals, Afrocenchix currently sells mainly to women in the UK, but the founders are eyeing a global market. A successful pitch to the judging panel—actor Ashton Kutcher, British Vogue publishing director Vanessa Kingori, Peanut app cofounder Michelle Kennedy, and Monzo cofounder Jonas Templestein—could make the difference for them.
The pair, who founded Afrocenchix when studying at the University of Birmingham nearly a decade ago, are also excited about the potential for growing their team. Currently Afrocenchix is just three full-time and four part-time employees, and Corson is looking forward to “creating more jobs in STEM” if the company can expand as a result of investment from the awards.
Sustainably, a technology platform that enables shoppers to “microdonate” the change from their purchases to a range of verified charities, would use Creator Award funding to go international as well, explains cofounder Loral Quinn, by expanding the UK company’s model Stateside. Before that can happen, though, winnings would be put towards “a lot of development work,” primarily to speed up the process of onboarding the 70 charities currently in the pipeline.
Quinn didn’t make the cut for the 2017 London Creator Awards, so she is particularly thrilled that Sustainably is a finalist this year. “We’ve done so much more this year,” she says. “It’s a combination of clearly being able to articulate what it is we do and also show what we’ve done.”
Not all the London Creator Award 2018 finalists are seeking funding with scaling up in mind. Hera Hussain, founder of Chayn, a global volunteer network addressing gender-based violence, will be pitching for core funding of her nonprofit. It’s an unusual route, she admits.
“You never say you want core funding,” she says. “You apply for money towards particular projects. But I chose to be very honest. We need to find out if Chayn can become financially sustainable.”
Since founding the organization in 2013, Hussain explains that “almost everything we’ve done has been done with volunteers with next to zero money.” A win at the Creator Awards would enable her to professionalize the way it provides tools and resources to the survivors of gender-based violence. As it stands, says Hussain, “we just don’t have the bandwidth to do it on a volunteer basis.”
Cemal Ezel is the founder of another nonprofit finalist with grand plans for its Creator Award winnings. Change Please, which trains homeless people as baristas and helps them get jobs at companies like Starbucks and Café Nero, has been based at WeWork Bishopsgate since making the finals of the inaugural London awards last year. Encouraged by the response last year, Ezel decided to apply again.
The goal this year is establishing a dedicated training academy that will replace the 32 individual sites Change Please is currently operating across the country, most of which don’t have the basic amenities—such as showers and washing machines—required to support the people the organization is seeking to help.
“We have the site ready, but we need the cash to get it happening,” says Ezel.
Lucy Hutchinson, cofounder of the phone-case manufacturer Mous, is similarly ambitious for the future of her business. Having achieved $2.4 million in crowdfunding in 2017, the business started with a bang. Now, explains Hutchinson, Mous is looking to the next step.
“We’d really like to take the ethos which we took to build our phone case—building it from the ground up and understanding what our customers really want from that product—and begin building protective accessories for other devices too,” says Hutchinson.
The timing of the Creator Awards has been a little “nerve-wracking” for the company, Hutchison admits. Preparations for the live pitching event are taking place alongside extensive planning for the roll-out of a new range of clear phone cases. But they’re taking it in stride.
“To go from being a team of five co-founders a year ago to presenting to 2,000 people at the awards is really quite special,” she says.
James Roberts, cofounder of mOm incubators, wants to revolutionize access to neonatal medicine with a collapsible infant incubator that can be used in war zones and other harsh environments across the developing world.
Winning the business venture award “would be a huge achievement for me and the team,” says Roberts. “It would be a monumental step forward. The money will allow us to put product into the field, collect testing data, and start to save children’s lives.”