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.

Emily Mathieson of Aerende hopes to 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.

Rachael Corson and Joycelyn Mate, co-founders of Afrocenchix, plan on using a prize from the Creator Awards to meet their current demand.

“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.”

Hera Hussain, founder of Chayn, will use the prize money to prove her company can be “financially sustainable.”

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.”

Sustainably cofounder Loral Quinn says any funding will be put towards “a lot of development work.”

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.”

Back when he helped organize festivals like Burning Man, Sebastian Jünemann says his team could “build a city somewhere in the middle of nowhere for 50,000 to 70,000 people.”

That experience led him and six other people to found Cadus, a nonprofit that constructs mobile hospitals in the world’s most extreme and difficult conditions, from the frontlines of war zones to the epicenters of natural disasters. Jünemann says he wanted to bring the spirit of those big communal gatherings into humanitarian aid.

Bringing access to medical care to people in need since 2014, Cadus impressed the judges at WeWork’s Creator Awards Berlin 2017, where the organization won $130,000. Early this year, it took home another $500,000 at the Creator Awards Global Finals in New York.

Jünemann returns to the Creator Awards Berlin this week to talk about the organization’s mission. “Our main project,” he explains, “is an emergency response unit that will bring medical and technical help to the people who need it most.”

In the Cadus workshop space, volunteers and staff assemble components to outfit a mobile hospital vehicle.

Jünemann’s team of 10 full-time staffers adds as many as 40 volunteers depending on need, funding cycles, and the types of projects available. Jünemann, a member at Berlin’s WeWork Stresemannstrasse 123, says he’s “never felt such support.”

In the nonprofit’s dedicated workshop space in Berlin, Cadus builds everything a medical team might need in a crisis area. The focus is on keeping everything affordable and easily repairable. All their innovations are open-source, so they are available to other nonprofits doing similar work.

“Our aim is to develop a blueprint for mobile hospitals for small, medium, and large nonprofits in poor countries,” Jünemann says.

Treating ‘as many people as possible’

Shortly after the organization’s first mission—rushing to the scene after the Philippines was hit in 2013 by one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, Super Typhoon Yolanda—the Cadus team was asked to join a group of journalists covering a war zone in Syria. Since then, Cadus has deployed in places like Iraq and Yemen—precarious zones to which many aid organizations don’t travel. “We’ve become specialists in dirty situations,” Jünemann says.

Besides working with people whose lives have been torn apart by war, Cadus also focuses on the international refugee crisis. Their work has become more difficult as many European countries close their borders.

“A few years ago, most European states were more open than they are today,” Jünemann says. “There are a lot of efforts to close down the refugee routes, which forces the refugees to find alternatives, which are often more dangerous. That means we have to be much more mobile.”

A paramedic since 1997, Jünemann says that funding is hard to come by for a relief organization like Cadus. That’s why the continued support from WeWork has been so important.

“We equipped our emergency response unit with [the Creator Awards] money,” Jünemann says. “Before, we didn’t have any resources money-wise, so we had to ask for private donations or official funding before starting a new operation. Now, we’re ready to deploy immediately after we’ve identified a crisis.”

Cadus is currently at work in Syria and is soon starting a new project in Bosnia. It’s also implementing a new airdrop system to deliver payloads from small planes that will be deployed in Nepal before the end of the year.

“The problem after disasters is that there are not enough specialized pilots for longline operations,” Jünemann says. “With our system, it is possible to drop into these locations.”

When asked about his organization’s overarching goal, Jünemann has a simple response: to save lives.

“What we are doing is basic emergency response and basic life support,” he says. “We are going there when no one else is. If I had to name a goal, I’d say it is to treat as many people as possible.”

An investor in companies like Airnbnb, Spotify, Uber, and Warby Parker, Ashton Kutcher knows a thing or two about what kind of companies are going to be successful.

“The bottom line is it’s not just about creating a company that has numbers and revenue and is going to make money,” says the actor, producer, and entrepreneur. “It’s about a company that is going to change the world, a company that is going to change people’s lives and make a really big impact.”

Kutcher has been a judge and co-host at several of WeWork’s Creator Awards, a global competition that provides funding for some of the world’s most innovative business ventures and nonprofit organizations. After hitting seven cities so far this year, it returns this week to Berlin before heading to Los Angeles in January for the Global Finals.

Tim Ferris (seen here with fellow Creator Awards judges Tamara Steffens, Lisa Price, and Joy Mangano) says that he’s looking for companies that are mission driven.

When Kutcher is listening to founders pitch their ideas, one thing that catches his attention is tenacity.

“I am looking for a spark that shows me that the founder that has grit,” he explains. “Starting a business is hard, and you are going to come across obstacles. The people who have grit actually make it through.”

Several other judges at Creator Awards shows break down what they are looking for into a couple of different categories: Is there a well-thought-out business plan? Is the idea behind the company original? And is there a strong social good aspect?

“I’m looking at them as if they are applying for funding,” says Justine Powell, managing director at Berlin’s Handelsblatt Media Group, who will be among the judges at this week’s Creator Awards Berlin. “I’m considering whether their organization really is viable. My biggest concern is startups that are too reliant on funding. That’s not the way to run a business. They have to show that there’s a market out there.”

Although this is the first time Powell is judging a pitch competition, she has had plenty of experience with startups. Mentoring founders, she says, “is part of the job.”

“Another thing I’m going to be looking is whether something is really is a completely new idea,” says Powell. “How original it is?”

Mobile bank Monzo cofounder Jonas Templestein, a judge at the Creator Awards London, agrees that originality is one of the most important things.

“What I am looking for is defensibility,” he says, “businesses that are difficult to attack and hard to copy.”

Author, entrepreneur, and public speaker Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, was a judge at last year’s Creator Awards Global Finals in New York. He says that he’s looking for companies that are mission driven.

“Will this change lives or not?” he asks. “Not just improve things incrementally, but will this change lives or not? Yes or no? And on a scale of one to 10, what would that look like? And then, how many people will that impact?”

Michelle Kennedy, cofounder of the motherhood app Peanut, says the companies most likely to win funding are ones that inspire her.

“I’m going to be looking for a business that turns me into their biggest cheerleader,” says Kennedy, who was a judge at the Creator Awards London.

Kutcher concurs, saying that putting money into a company is a long-term commitment.

“I’m looking for an entrepreneur that I would want to work for, because I think that as an investor you end up working for every investment that you make,” he says. “So I am looking for people I want to work for and an idea that has the capacity to really impact people’s lives.”

Artist Olafur Eliasson has mounted exhibits of his large-scale sculptures at galleries and museums around the world, but the piece that might have the most lasting impact is one of the smallest.

Eliasson designed a whimsical solar lamp for Little Sun, the company he founded with engineer Frederik Ottesen in 2012. The for-profit company would sell the lamps in the developed world and use the profits to help distribute them in places where there is little or no electricity, so that school children would have light to do their homework or read in the evenings.

Earlier this year, Eliasson launched the Little Sun Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to vastly increase the number of lamps going to families around the world. The foundation is one of three groups competing this year at the Creator Awards Berlin, a global competition sponsored by WeWork. Nonprofits can win between $18,000 and $130,000.

Little Sun cofounders Frederik Ottesen and Olafur Eliasson with their solar-powered lamp.

By winning at the Creator Awards Berlin, the Little Sun Foundation hopes to distribute solar lamps to 5,000 students and 200 teachers in rural Rwanda. The foundation, based in Berlin, also hopes to raise fund and increase awareness about the need for electricity in developing countries. “We’re interested in implementing technology into a system of communication and engagement,” says director Felix Hallwachs.

Another nonprofit helping kids around the world is Berlin’s ShareTheMeal. Launched with the United Nations World Food Program three years ago, the mobile app fights global hunger by making donating extremely easy. With a simple tap on a smartphone, users can feed one child in need for just 50 cents a day.

“We thought leveraging mobile technology would be a good way to engage millennials, a group that has a heavy smartphone usage,” says Massimiliano Costa, head of ShareTheMeal. He says it’s the “most efficient, innovative, and thought-through fundraising tool to engage millennials in the fight against hunger.”

Kids in Lebanon enjoy some food sponsored by ShareTheMeal.

A win at the Creator Awards would help roll out a new product called The Table, which enables monthly givers to monitor their donations and connect with a family they’re helping through regular updates on the app.

Learning firsthand about the shortcomings of Germany’s education system was what sparked Anna Meister to start ZuBaKa, a program to help refugee children in Frankfurt. The name of the program is a contraction of the German word Zukunftsbaukasten, which roughly translates as “tool box for the future.”

Frankfurt students play in a class led by ZuBaKa.

Having worked with the nonprofit Teach First Deutschland before founding ZuBaKa two years ago, Meister was determined to design a new curriculum that would help young people adjust to school and life in a new country. “We support newcomers between the ages of 10 and 21 by offering customized integration classes at local schools and institutions,” she says.

Meister’s goal is to expand the program beyond the six schools where it is currently based. “It is time for us to get started with our first stage of scaling,” she says. “This is what the Creator Awards would make possible.”

How you drink your morning cup of coffee could one day have a big impact on the world.

Kaffeeform is an eco-friendly replacement for the millions of single-use coffee cups that go into landfills every day. On Nov. 15 the company is competing at WeWork’s Creator Awards Berlin, the latest in a series of global competitions featuring innovative nonprofit organizations and business ventures that are vying for up to $360,000.

Founder and Berlin-based designer Julian Lechner first had the idea for it eight years ago. “It was an idle thought at first,” he says. “What happens to all those spent coffee grounds?”

The grounds are just thrown away, along with all those cups. Lechner began experimenting with coffee waste collected from local cafés until he hit on the perfect combination of coffee grounds and biopolymers, a biodegradable, lightweight, machine washable, and durable material derived from living organisms. “It’s similar to vinyl to touch but with the scent of coffee,” he says.

Berlin-based designer Julian Lechner says he first had the idea for Kaffeeform eight years ago.

The new material can be injection molded to create coffee cups. Kaffeeform currently offers four different types of cups and is preparing to add more products to its list, such as skateboards and sunglasses.

A win at the awards would cap an extraordinary year for Kaffeeform, which recently won the Red Dot Award 2018 for creating a product that “sets an important example for the future.” Lechner’s team is now looking for ways to supply enough cups to meet the ever-growing demand in Germany. “We’re selling them as fast as we can make them, especially the reusable to-go cup,” he says. “Creator Awards funding would allow us to put the right structures in place to get ahead of demand and grow the business sustainably.”

Entrepreneurs look beyond profits

The threat posed by single-use plastics played a role in the genesis of another of the finalists at the Creator Awards. Plan A is the first crowdfunding platform that funnels funds directly to organizations in areas hit hardest by climate change,.

Lubomila Jordanova was determined to get involved in the fight against climate change.

“I’d been on holiday in North Africa and seen mountains of plastic waste being burned in the street,” explains founder Lubomila Jordanova. “I went home determined to get involved in the fight against climate change. I spent weeks plowing through hundreds of articles and still had no idea what I could usefully do. It’s no wonder so many people give up.”

Drawing on her background in finance, the native of Bulgaria realized the problem was one of perspective. “No one can solve climate change because it’s not one problem,” she says. “If we’re going to beat it, we need to do so by breaking it down into thousands of manageable tasks.”

Jordanova, who is based in Berlin, put a team together and spent the next year crunching vast amounts of climate data from around the world. When the platform goes live in a matter of weeks, she says it will be the first time individuals, nonprofits, and businesses will be able to work together on climate change. A win at the Creator Awards would mean more money for marketing and more people analyzing the data.

Amparo cofounder Lucas Paes de Melo (second from right) says the company started as a university project.

The category Lechner and Jordanova are competing in might be called Business Ventures, but all five finalists embody values that go beyond profit and loss. Prosthetics manufacturer Amparo is guided by a mission that is rooted in its origins as a university project, when a group of engineering and design students were looking at ways of helping amputees in the developing world. After two years of research and development, Amparo’s product—a thermoplastic socket that can be remolded as often as necessary, requires no special tools, and can be completed in under an hour at the patient’s home—went on sale in August.

“Traditional sockets have to be remade again and again from scratch as the residual limb changes size and shape, particularly when the amputation is recent, or the amputee is a child,” says cofounder Lucas Paes de Melo. “It’s expensive, time-consuming, and often requires multiple visits to a clinic.”

The socket has an innovative pricing model where people are charged according to their ability to pay. “We haven’t forgotten our original mission to help amputees in the developing world,” he says. Amparo, which means “support” in Portuguese, will dedicate a portion of any money it wins at the Creator Awards towards its dream project: making modern prosthetics accessible to everyone who needs them, regardless of means or geography, via a series of mobile clinics.

On the tip of their tongue

Liz Sauer Williamson’s company is a bit closer to home. Williamson, co-founder of Löwenzahn Organics, wants to improve what we feed our babies. The idea for her company came about when Williamson tasted some of the instant porridge she’d prepared for her infant daughter. It’s no coincidence that one of the company’s first products is a “non-instant” porridge.

Liz Sauer Williamson (right) started Löwenzahn Organics after tasting the porridge she was feeding her baby.

“You actually have to cook it for two minutes rather than simply adding water to rehydrate it,” says the Berlin-based entrepreneur. “The difference in taste is enormous.”

The philosophy behind Löwenzahn Organics is based on the idea that baby food should look and taste like real food. That way, children develop a healthy relationship with eating, and parents don’t spend the next 10 years cooking separate meals for kids and adults. A win at the Creator Awards would mean more money to spend on adding new products to its line of baby foods.

Like the other finalists at the Creator Awards,  David Montiel was inspired by Berlin’s dynamic and inclusive startup scene. Drawn to the city by the prospect of work as a programmer, the native of Mexico wanted to conquer the language as quickly as possible. “I listened to audiobooks on my commute every day and got frustrated having to constantly pause, guess the spelling of each new word, and then look it up in a dictionary,” he says.

David Montiel of Beelinguapp was inspired by Berlin’s dynamic and inclusive startup scene.

Montiel built an app called Beelinguapp that displays text in two languages and offers simultaneous audio, visualized with the bouncing ball familiar to karaoke aficionados. Launched in January 2017, Beelinguapp has attracted 1.5 million users and named one of the top language learning apps Google Play. “That recognition was the assurance I needed to finally leave my day job and commit to Beelinguapp full time,” he says.

Winning a Creator Award would allow him to invest in new features like a bilingual news service. As they prepare for their 60-second pitch at the Creator Awards Berlin, the other finalists echoed the same thought: that a win would enable them to take their business to the next level. And maybe, in the process, change the world.