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Berlin Creator Awards Frantics dance

With 60 seconds on the clock and a skateboard in his hand, Skateistan Founder Oliver Percovich prepared to deliver his pitch at the Berlin Creator Awards Tuesday night. On the line was a top prize of $360,000.

“People told me my idea was impossible for years,” he said of his nonprofit, which provides children in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa with schools and skate parks. “For me, it made sense. I saw the smile on the kids’ faces.”

After his high-stakes pitch, a panel of judges asked why skateboarding appeals to kids in unstable countries. “It’s challenging,” he answered. “You fall down and have to get back up again. Afghanis know hardship.”

With his innovative approach to empowering the next generation of leaders, Percovich took home the top prize at the Creator Awards, the fifth one hosted by WeWork this year. For the Berlin edition, more than 1,100 gathered at Motorwerk Berlin, an engine factory turned club turned event space. Over the course of the evening, WeWork gave out more than $1 million to innovative projects and the creators behind them.

Speaking at the start of the night, WeWork Co-Founder Miguel McKelvey acknowledged how even embracing the title of “creator” can be hard for those working on their own projects that deviate from the typical idea of a startup.

“The Creator Awards are about trying to uncover people who don’t fit into the traditional systems of funding,” McKelvey said. “It’s OK to not be the next Facebook. What really counts is doing something that you care about.”

Tape Over Berlin creates a mural that reads "Building up the Future."
Miguel McKelvey says the Creator Awards "uncover people who don’t fit into the traditional systems of funding."
WeWork Co-Founder Miguel McKelvey embraces Community Giver Award winner Nicola Metzger.
AC Coppens moderates the Master Class on Modern Storytelling for Creatives with Nina Trippel and Laetitia Deveau.
The dance floor kicks up during Giorgio Moroder's DJ set.
Winners soak in their moment at the 2017 Berlin Creator Awards.
The judges deliberate after hearing the finalists' 60-second pitches.

Before the ceremony, while the crowd noshed on Berlin bites like vegan curry wurst and locally brewed BRLO, many of the finalists – Percovich included – fought nerves as they got ready for the final pitches. For these entrepreneurs and artists, the prizes of $18,000 in the Incubate category, to $72,000 to $130,000 in Launch, and $180,000 to $360,000 in Scale can make or break their ideas.

Matthias Heskamp of Radbahn said he and his team were on the brink of going back to their day jobs. “We almost couldn’t survive anymore,” he said. While the team of eight had received great media attention for their plan to turn the overpasses of Berlin’s elevated S-train into sheltered paths for bikes and pedestrians, they hadn’t yet secured sufficient funding to keep themselves afloat. Now, with the $72,000 Launch prize, they’ll be able to increase their focus on Radbahn, lobbying the local government and starting to unveil sections of the path.

The top winner in the Launch category, Sebastian Jünemann of Cadus, is also thrilled that his team will now be able to build and deploy a second mobile hospital to areas deemed too risky by other aid organizations. “Everyone said it wasn’t possible to put a mobile hospital two kilometers from the front lines in Mosul,” he said. “We showed them it is possible … and helped 300 people who would be dead now if we hadn’t been there.”

Among the excitement of the pitches and prizes, no one topped the enthusiasm of the Community Giver Award recipient Nicola Metzger. The Berlin crowd roared for the petite but exuberant WeWork Sony Center member as she bounced up to the stage to accept the $18,000 award, grinning ear to ear.

When all the money was handed out, it was time for a proper Berlin DJ set. Legendary Italian producer Giorgio Moroder threw on some of the disco classics he helped create, including the iconic “Love to Love You Baby.” The crowd stayed through to the last note at midnight, the dance floor strewn with confetti and business cards.

Looking ahead, Percovich said he knows exactly how he’s going to use the Creator Awards prize money. Skateistan gets messages from similar programs on a weekly basis.

“We’re contacted almost every week by copycat programs from around the world looking for support,” he said. “We see enormous potential in open sourcing all that we’ve learned in 10 years. This will give us the ability to have an impact on 100 countries and get closer to our goal of creating hundreds of thousands of leaders to change the world.”

WeWork

Winners of the 2017 Berlin Creator Awards

Scale

Skateistan (nonprofit) – $360,000

Hexlox (for profit) – $180,000

Common Goal (nonprofit) – $180,000

 

Launch

Cadus (nonprofit) – $130,000

Radbahn (nonprofit) – $72,000

Sonic Geometry (artist) – $72,000

Citizen’s Mark (for profit) – $72,000

Institute for Sound & Music (nonprofit) – $72,000

 

Incubate

12 Minutes Me (nonprofit) – $18,000

Atempo (for profit) – $18,000

Bikeee (for profit) – $18,000

Framen (for profit) – $18,000

Gusto Jobs (for profit) – $18,000

Plumage (artist) – $18,000

Pydro (for profit) – $18,000

 

Community Giver Award

Nicola Metzger

 

For the Creator Awards, WeWork is committing more than $20 million to innovative projects and the people behind them. This global competition is now open for entrepreneurs, artists, startups, nonprofits – anyone who embodies our mantra, “Create your life’s work.” Apply today.

Photos by Max Menning and Marjolein Van der Klaauw

“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.”