On the eve of the first Creator Awards in Shanghai, WeWork talked with the finalists in each category about their work, their plans should they win, and what being a creator means to them. For some, creation necessitates social impact; for others, it means forging a new path in life. For all, however, creation has been a matter of hard work and dedicated passion.

Category: Business Venture

Turning Surfaces into a Canvas for the Imagination

Justin Cheng of Hipaint: ‘I think I should thank my daughter’

Company: Hipaint
Founded by: Justin Cheng, 33
Founded in: 2014
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 40

Mission: Our mission is to be the generator of new ideas for mankind.

What is Hipaint? Our main product is a paint that turns surfaces into whiteboards. Unlike a board, Hipaint is limitless, with no boundaries. We also sell board accessories, markers, etc. And we’ve been adding paints with additional functions, [like] magnetic paint [and] projector paint.

Why did you start the company? I remember when my daughter was around two (she is now six). She just grabbed a marker and drew on the wall. Other parents may have stopped her. But when I saw that, I joined. We drew giant monsters, jumped around, [and] had a great time. I thought, paper fills up so quickly. An entire wall can hold a totally new world for kids. Back then, I was working in one of the largest paint companies in Britain. Shortly thereafter, when I met a doctorate from Oxford, we started Hipaint. I think I should thank my daughter.

How many customers have you served? Currently we have 1,000-plus office customers (including Apple, Tencent, and Alibaba), 100-plus school customers, and about 10,000 individual users. In 2017 our sales revenue was about 12 million rmb. We have passed our break-even point.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? When I worked in a Fortune 400 company I had a good life, [a] good salary. But I was not creating things, just following the path where I could clearly see the future. The thing I’m doing now, it’s totally new. I’ve created something that never existed. From zero to one. I just want to create something different that can make people’s lives better.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? I’m wondering what the event will be like.

What will you do with the money if you win? There are many children in faraway villages, in the mountains in China. I visited their schools; they are in a terrible situation. Our paint is small, and cheaper and easier to transport than boards. Though we are a startup, we want to do something for society, to help kids in poor regions get better education. If we have this money, we will donate whiteboard paint to 100-200 schools in poor regions without any charge.

Tracking a Baby’s Heartbeat from Your Couch

Jiliang Ma of ExtantFuture: ‘A creator is a problem solver’

Company: ExtantFuture, which produces the Modoo fetus monitoring device
Founded by: Jiliang Ma, 29; William Zhou, 46; Rambo Du, 31; and Nicky Shi, 34
Founded in: 2015
Where: Beijing
Number of employees: 30-plus

Mission: We want to create a consumer health product for mothers who want to know their baby more. Also, we want to create a closed circle with medical service within our app to reduce anxiety and frequent travel to the hospital. Finally, as we collect data, we want to gather the world’s largest dataset about the developing baby, which may present a massive opportunity for AI technology to predict more issues and save more lives.

What is the Modoo? Modoo is a wearable device that can stick on a pregnant mother’s belly to track heartbeats and kicks in the comfort of the home.

Why did you create it? When I started this company, I hadn’t even married. A lot of people laughed at me. But in 2014, a lot of friends and classmates started to get married and pregnant. I discovered that if you get pregnant, you receive hospital check-ups just once a month. That’s not enough, both from the consumer and medical side[s].

How many customers have you served? We have sold more than 15,000 units in 12 months, with a 12 to 15 percent monthly increase rate.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? A creator is a problem solver who uses developing tech or a smart business model to solve the problem. A qualified creator is also a businessman. A creator should spread the service/tech to as many people as possible.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Actually, not too much. I was busy negotiating some business in Shanghai and doing clinical trials in the hospital.

What will you do with the money if you win? We are applying for the CFDA [China Food and Drug Administration] and FDA; these certificates have really high barriers and are expensive. We need to have a professional team, make our platform better, hire more physicians, etc.

Genetic Testing Makes Individualized Skin Care a Reality

Le Duc of Uniskin: ‘We want to see what is beneath the surface’

Company: Shanghai Inertia Biotechnology, which produces Uniskin
Founded by: Le Duc, 30
Founded in: 2017
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 34

Mission: We want to help skincare customers understand the uniqueness of their individual skin and how each skin should be treated differently.

What is Uniskin? Skin genetic testing in the form of a kit that customers use at home. It includes a swab for saliva and a couple skin patches. Then we offer a series of skincare product lines based on analysis results.

Why did you start the company? I used to be a resident physician in the U.S. and noticed genetic testing and tech was increasing dramatically. Testing is getting more affordable. I wanted to bring it into real life. We picked skin care because that is one thing we deal with every day.

Furthermore, the capability of a doctor is not complete. Sometimes recovery is out of our hands; life is so complex. Technology like genetic testing can help us uncover more information that gives us more control than we previously had. Hopefully we plan to use our genetic data to expand to other areas of medical and clinical use.

How many customers have you served? We’ve served over 2,000 people. Our revenue so far is 2 million rmb received; 5 million rmb in accounts receivable by mid-year.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? A creator must do something innovative, something people haven’t seen before. It then has to be beneficial to a scalable target. If you create something but it cannot be used by people, it’s not creation or innovation.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? I’ll just try to relax. Get good sleep. Run the company as usual.

What will you do with the money if you win? Probably we will put most of the money into research and development. We need more analysis people, and we’ll trying to build a new lab to process more samples, more data.

Category: Nonprofit

Helping Children with Cerebral Palsy Integrate into Society

Kate Wang of AngelHouse: ‘I have been preparing for this moment for 16 years’

Nonprofit: AngelHouse
Founded by: Kate Wang, 50, and Lvjiang Li, 57
Founded in: 2002
Where: Nanning, Guangxi
Number of employees: 44

Mission: Angel House is a charity organization that helps individuals with cerebral palsy (CP) integrate into society.

What does AngelHouse do? We provide children with CP housing and rehabilitation, academic courses, [and] opportunities to attend normal school, as well as social adaptation activities, such as visits to the supermarket. Additionally, we provide training and counseling for families and partner organizations in the CP network (currently AngelHouse has 55 partner organizations throughout China).

Why did you start the organization? I have twin daughters, and one of them has CP. Most schools don’t adapt for these kinds of children, and she was not accepted by normal schools.

I am solving a problem with two sides. One is awareness from society: People consider this group to be an in-patient group. But actually, CP cannot be solved simply [with] medical treatment. Secondly, those with CP don’t have their own disability association and representation.

How many people have you served? [On] any given day, we serve about 90 kids.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? A creator is one who can impact and improve history, and in this way, create history.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? We are diligently preparing. It feels like I have been preparing for this moment for 16 years.

What will you do with the money if you win? We want to bolster our support system of physical training, education, and social work. Also, we want to support 80 children with CP for one year with full tuition scholarships.

Second-hand Items Fuel Work Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Shujie Jiang of Buy 42: ‘I want to leave something beautiful in the world’

Nonprofit: Buy 42 Charity Store
Founded by: Shujie Jiang, 31
Founded in: 2010
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 20 full time, 100-plus involved in various degrees

Mission: Our mission is to have a charity store in every community. Our vision is to change people’s attitude toward used items and recycling, as well as toward disabled people.

What is Buy 42 Charity Store? We started offline stores because the experience is better than an online store. Customers can see disabled people working in our store [and] can touch the products. Sometimes they can dig through the merchandise and discover a hidden treasure.

Why did you start the organization? We encourage people to donate idle resources, as well as corporations to donate samples and overstock to us, which they would abandon anyway. We also resell gently used items: books, wheelchair, toys, etc. As we generate revenue, we use it to support people with disabilities to work. We use idle products and idle human resources to build up our sustainable business.

How many people have you served? We have eight stores in operation [and] nine stores [under] construction. Our biggest store on Jiangning lu has 150-200 customers everyday. Every month our cash flow is more than 200,000rmb.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? For me, a creator has more responsibility on her shoulders, social responsibility. We live only 80-90 years; we’re nothing in this universe. A creator can leave something in the world; I want to leave something beautiful in the world, for my daughter and for the future.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? I hope to just enjoy myself and let people see and feel our team’s passion.

What will you do with the money if you win? This year we are building many stores in Shanghai and later in other cities. We will invest the award to speed up the [construction of the] stores, and to build the team’s operation and team capabilities.

Walking 31 Miles to Raise Money for Children’s Charities

Jie Xiao of E.G.G. Walkathon: ‘Young people want to challenge themselves’

Nonprofit: E.G.G. Walkathon
Founded by: Jie Xiao, 33
Founded in: 2011
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 5

Mission: E.G.G. Walkathon (Enjoy Give Go) is a fundraising campaign held to support small projects for children’s charities related to nutrition, education, social education, and child protection.

What is E.G.G. Walkathon? E.G.G. is an annual event where teams and individuals walk 50 kilometers over one day to raise funds for charities. Young people want to challenge themselves, do something difficult but that can make a difference for others. You don’t have to be super-rich to be a philanthropist.

Why did you start the organization? E.G.G. was originally conceived to fund a project to donate one boiled egg each day to a number of children in rural western China. We’ve since expanded the usage of the money to funding for library projects, child protection, left behind children, etc. We now have about 4,000 walkers each year.

We fund private-sector organizations because in China, there are many nonprofits, but most are very dependent on government funding. They don’t have enough independent financial resources. And legally there are many barriers for newcomers to grow and register.

How many people have you served? More than 260 charity projects have been supported over seven years. We raise up to 10 million rmb per year.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? For me, a creator could be someone who creates something concrete. A creator can make a vague idea into something real.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Luckily enough, we had a three-day public holiday just last weekend. I spent the days at a temple retreat and had time to think through how I want to present.

What will you do with the money if you win? We don’t have the bandwidth to do public promotion or media purchases. If we win, one thing we’d like to do is help more people know about E.G.G. We’d also like to help fund our research.

Category: Community Giver

Recycling Clothing to Help Kids and Companies

Nick Lim of Baosquared: ‘I feel physical pain when I see nature destroyed’

Organization: Baosquared
Founded by: Nick Lim, 46
Founded in: 2013
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 4.5

Mission: Our mission is to minimize environmental damage as a result of the lifestyle we’re all caught up in and to raise public awareness. Every one of the decisions we make every day has an impact on the environment.

What does Baosquared do? We provide people with an avenue to recycle old clothes, and we provide companies [with] an avenue to dispose of excess inventory –– shoes, school bags, toys, equipment, etc. In doing so, we help kids in poor communities, and we help retail brands save money.

Why did you start the organization? I love nature; I feel physical pain when I see nature being destroyed. When I see people running the tap, not paying attention, it pains me. There are people who see something wrong and move on. They think, “It’s not my business.” For me, it’s everyone’s business. There are more intelligent ways to handle products rather than recycling because a lot of clothing is new and clean.

How many people have you served? We’ve sent clothing to 4,596 children.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? Someone who creates something tangible out of an idea. A lot of us have ideas and fantasies about how we want to change and improve the world; not many people roll up their sleeves and get things done.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Nothing really, because I’m trying to launch the project in a few other places. But I’m very grateful.

What will you do with the money if you win? Hire people to make the clothing selection and sorting process better. Sorting clothes for hundreds of kids is time- and labor-consuming, but we can’t compromise that because it’s our goal to make kids feel better about themselves, not to feel as though they’re being handed someone’s trash. We’ll also use the money to expand to different cities.

Connecting Young Women to Create Professional Opportunities

Samantha Kwok of Beijing Women’s Network: ‘Twelve women turned into 4,000’

Organization: Beijing Women’s Network
Founded by: Jessie Wang, 26, and Oma Lee, 26, who are no longer with the organization; currently managed by Samantha Kwok, 26, and Leslie Dong, 26
Founded in: 2015
Where: Beijing
Number of employees: 7

Mission: Young professional women of all different backgrounds, countries, and languages help each other through peer-to-peer mentorship, connections, and resource sharing.

What is the Beijing Women’s Network? We offer panels, workshops, and casual dinners.

Why did you start the organization? A lot of younger women professionals based in Beijing were finding it hard to find mentors, especially those working in smaller companies, entrepreneurs, etc. An initial group of 12 women started to get together regularly to discuss different challenges and issues they were facing within professional settings. Those original 12 women turned into 4,000. Now the committee organizes events every month, [like] panel discussions and professional development opportunities.

When BWN was founded, existing professional organizations for women were a bit older. The founders wanted to find a more relatable group for young professionals. Lean In, which is a similar organization with similar goals, produces events in China only in Chinese. BWN wanted a more expat-friendly organization; our events often have interpreters and translations.

How many people have you served? We have 4,000 members. Proceeds from events go toward one women-focused charity. In the past two years, we’ve raised 70,000rmb for Wheels for Life and Rural Women.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? Someone who makes something out of nothing.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Not much, actually. We’re just really excited.

What will you do with the money if you win? We will hold more professional events. With the funds, we’d be able to continue to drive the growing force that has been volunteer-driven for the past few years. We’d hire an administrator to take care of the logistics, event management, and curation. We’d like to invest in a space, as well as develop a WeChat mini-program, to foster online engagement more efficiently.

Category: Performing Arts

From a College Campus, A Cappella Goes Global  

Zhiyao He of Calculasian: ‘We think this genre is really magical’

Troupe: Calculasian
Founded by: Zhiyao He, 25; Chen Chen, 26; Ziming Li, 26; Xu Chen, 27; Tianyi Wang, 27; and Ye Lu, 27
Founded in: 2013
Where: California (Bay Area), Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou
Number of members: 6  

Mission: We have two goals: to introduce the a cappella genre to China, and to introduce Chinese pop culture to the world.

What is Calculasian? We sing and record a cappella music in Chinese and English. Our debut album consists of 10 covers and two original songs, all with original a cappella arrangements of mostly pop songs.

Why did you start the group? We enjoyed singing together in college, at UC Berkeley. We think this genre is really magical because when you sing harmony together, the brain releases a “trust” chemical, the same that is released when you trust other people. We are attracted to this trusting environment and want others to experience this as well.

For how many people have you performed? We did a crowdfunding scheme when we produced our first album; we’ve used the funds to produce the album, fund our travel and reunions, rehearsals, and marketing.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? It’s something based on your past experience and your passion. You have a passion; you have a goal; you have a mission. And then you use your experiences and your skills and works to achieve that mission. In the process, you create something inspiring and great.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? We were really intensively rehearsing, selecting outfits, and making sure we put on our best performance for the night.  

What will you do with the money if you win? We will have the funds to create, produce, and market our new album, which has a strong focus on Chinese musical heritage. Part of the funds will be used to hire world-class producers and engineers in order to achieve the best quality of music, and the rest of the funds will be used for marketing the material on a global scale.

Spreading Joy and Good Health with Jump Rope

Shengxi Li of Yuedong Jumprope: ‘Don’t drink, don’t smoke – just jump’

Troupe: Yuedong Jumprope
Founded by: Shengxi Li, 35
Founded in: 2009
Where: Shanghai
Number of members: 70 full and part time

Mission: We hope we can use jump rope to change people’s lifestyle and to instill a love of sports and health in young children. Don’t drink, don’t smoke –– just jump. Jumping rope is proven to be beneficial for heart health. Our dream is to turn jump rope into an Olympic sport.

What is Yuedong Jumprope? We do jump rope performance, as well as teach jump rope courses. We also make jump rope equipment. Our three studios in Shanghai are in Baoshan and Minghan.

Why did you start the group? When I was a student at university, our professor showed our class a jump rope video, and we thought it was so cool, so interesting, and so funny. So, we began to learn their style. Now, when we perform, other people also say, “Ah, jumping rope can be like this.” We began this group with the joy of jump rope, and we want to spread that joy.

For young children, if they have a good experience with sports earlier, they may become more capable, healthy adults.

For how many people have you performed? More than 600 schools have worked with Yuedong for teacher training, performance, or workshop.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? We say at Yuedong: Jump your style. That means: Be unique, be yourself. In other words, it means: Live your passion.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Our group now practices every day and discuss[es] what we want to let the audience know. We are working very hard.

What will you do with the money if you win? Help our team promote the sport, especially to young children in primary schools. We want to let them have a positive sports experience. We hope to reach out to and work with 1,000 more schools.

“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.”