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20171115 Creator Awards NYC – Master Class – JB -5

“How many New Yorkers do we have here tonight?” Georges Clement of Justfix.NYC said from the stage at the New York City Creator Awards as the crowd cheered wildly. “And how many of you have had a terrible landlord?” he asked, eliciting an even more thunderous response.

Raised in Morningside Heights in Manhattan, Clement worked his home-court advantage Thursday night as he made the case for Justfix.NYC, a free service which helps low-income residents file claims against landlords when facing issues such as mold or infestations in their homes. His appeal won over the crowd and, more lucratively, the judges, who awarded him $180,000.

Launch winner JustFix.NYC
Georges Clement of JustFix.NYC

“Five months ago, our bank account was at zero,” Clement said. It’s been a pretty good week for the 27-year-old entrepreneur, including making the cut into Forbes’ Law and Policy 30 Under 30 and meeting fellow Creator Awards winner LeVar Burton. “Now, we’ve reached an inflection point. Now people have bought in to our vision.”

Clement and 23 other creators took home more than $1.5 million at the seventh regional Creator Awards event.

The event was a homecoming of sorts for the Creator Awards. The global competition, which started this year when New York City-based WeWork committed more than $20 million to fund innovative projects around the world, will culminate in a Global Finals in January 2018, also happening in New York City. Innovators of all kinds competed at three levels: Incubate, Launch, and Scale, with prizes ranging from $18,000 up to $360,000. Host Adi Neumann pointed out that this breaks down to more than $50,000 a minute.

“We found that there weren’t many people looking out for the creators of the world that didn’t follow the typical business model,” said WeWork Co-founder Miguel McKelvey

“Tonight’s a very special night,” WeWork Co-founder Miguel McKelvey said at the start of the ceremony. “We’re here at home where we started. The Creator Awards has connected us to incredible communities. Bringing this community together was something we’d dreamed about, but now we get to feel it in real life.” (Watch McKelvey’s whole speech about #IRL dreams at the 10:15 mark in the livestream below.)

To make the night even more special, McKelvey and the other Scale judges decided to hand out two more $180,000 prizes to finalists than they had originally planned. The big winner of $360,000 in that category, Karim Abouelnaga of Practice Makes Perfect, is also a native New Yorker solving a very local problem.

Behind the scenes, Abouelnaga and Clement had been cheering each other on, as they’re both part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers New York group. While Clement tackles housing, Abouelnaga focuses on education by bringing near-peer summer tutoring to underserved schools. For example, his very first summer program had ninth graders teaching fourth graders. The younger kids got lessons to keep them from falling further behind; the older kids get great summer jobs.

“I was the first person in my family to go to college,” Abouelnaga said in his 45-second pitch. “And I left a career in investment banking to make sure I wasn’t the last.”

Last summer, Practice Makes Perfect brought summer learning to 31 schools in New York, and in 2018, they’ll push it up to 50.

“With this money, I’ll experiment with cutting our price point to schools this year to saturate the market more this year and reach more kids,” he said.

Denimrush at Creator Market in New York CityThe full house of 2,500 who gathered at Skylight Clarkson Square in New York’s SoHo neighborhood wore their creativity on their sleeves, sometimes quite literally. Incubate category winner Laurén Bienvenue could be seen weaving through the party in her signature hand-painted leather jacket adorned with palm leaves. At the Creator Market, Denimrush was doing live drip painting on denim jackets.

Many of the artists represented had women founders or women-driven missions, as did many of the finalists who spoke on stage. Karen Young, founder of women-focused shaving brand Oui Shave and now a winner of $180,000 said the vision of the Creator Awards spoke to her.

“The Creator Awards is the first funding medium that just asks, ‘What are you passionate about?’” she said. “Many times, women are creating products for an audience they know intimately. But quite often if you’re talking to male investors, that’s not something they really understand immediately.”

After the awards ceremony, the dance floor filled up, matched in enthusiasm only by the line for New York-style hot dogs. Just before 11 p.m., the music stopped abruptly for a few moments, giving just enough time to let the shock of T-Pain standing at the DJ booth sink in—and for the cell phones to come out—before he launched into his hit “Bartender.” T-Pain announced that his new album was dropping at midnight, but he’d still stick to the hits for his surprise appearance. The crowd tightened up and unified for the moment. It was just another inspired night in the best city on earth.

Winners of the 2017 New York Creator Awards

Scale
Practice Makes Perfect (for profit) – $360,000

Eat Offbeat (for profit) – $180,000

LeVar Burton Kids (for profit) – $180,000

Oui Shave (for profit) – $180,000

Swipe Out Hunger (nonprofit) – $180,000

Launch
JustFix.NYC (nonprofit) – $180,000

Girls Health Champions (nonprofit) – $72,000

Inclusion (nonprofit) – $72,000

Integrated Medical Sensors (for profit) – $72,000

Seeds of Collaboration (for profit) – $72,000

Incubate
Adisa (for profit) – $18,000

ATOMIC by Design (for profit) – $18,000

Blossom-Project (nonprofit) – $18,000

Cave Theatre Co. (artist) – $18,000

Dialogue Theory (artist) – $18,000

Discover Outdoors Foundation (nonprofit) – $18,000

Girls on the Run NYC (nonprofit) – $18,000

Jae Jin Music (artist) – $18,000

Langston League (for profit) – $18,000

Once Upon A Laurén (artist) – $18,000

Purpose Driven Passports (nonprofit) – $18,000

Community Giver Award
ShareBite: Dilip Rao, Mohsin Mehmon, and Jason Ayala

Photos by Katelyn Perry

“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.”