When you live in a tiny apartment with four roommates, and every coffee shop on the block is either at capacity or doesn’t offer Wi-Fi, it’s impossible to do your best work. Or even get any work done, as you’re spending your time hopping from one place to the next in search of that one precious outlet. What makes a big difference is a place that you can call your home away from home: a place that puts you at ease and allows you to get in the zone. We spoke with a dozen WeWork members about how they ended up choosing to work in a collaborative space.

Question: Why did you choose a coworking space over working from home or a coffee shop?

To push my business to the next level

I’m an introvert, and I honestly wasn’t sold on coworking when I started out. I’m the type of designer that has her best ideas in a quiet space with zero distractions. I still love my alone time, but my business wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for coworking. I have my dedicated desk where you’ll usually find me busy working, distraction-free, with my headphones on. When I need a break, you will find me in the common areas where I have the opportunity to meet other members whose experiences, successes, and setbacks show me I’m not alone.

So I can recruit the best staff

Economically, it was the cheapest way for our brand to establish a presence, conduct business, and scale. It’s also exciting to work alongside other entrepreneurs grinding away into the wee hours of the morning. Last, but not least, we’re looking for a diverse talented talent pool. It's just easier to recruit when you have a physical address and a support staff that rocks.

To be as productive as possible

I find myself being more productive when I'm around productive people. At home, I can't reach that creative and focused mindset that I need to be in because there are too many distractions, and coffee shops are great until you need to take a break. You are kind of bound to staying where your computer is because you don't want to leave your belongings out in the open. A coworking space gives you the freedom to take healthy breaks in between work sessions and come back recharged and refocused.

Because I want to stay motivated

I need an office to keep me motivated. Working from home means I’m going to have a lot of days where I’m sitting around in my underwear, and I don’t shower until 12 PM. I signed up for a one-person office because WeWork Meatpacking is the perfect location for my business, and I wanted to have first dibs on the bigger offices when I’m expanding, but I also signed up for it because I wouldn’t work very hard without one.

To accomplish more in less time

I estimate I get 25 to 50 percent more work done at WeWork than I would at a coffee shop or from home. A coffee shop would be too distracting, and I wouldn’t last more than a day in the solitude of a home office. The combination of private offices and common areas means WeWork offers the best of both worlds: privacy for when you need to focus and opportunities to socialize for when you feel like being with others. Plus, there is something motivational about not being the only one in the building on a Sunday at 4 PM.

To meet clients in a professional setting

I need to meet clients in person and be professional in doing this. I like the buzz of a coffee shop, but the music is too loud, and it doesn’t seem professional enough.

Because I fell in love with the energy

I'm the only U.S.-based employee of a software company based in New Zealand and therefore don't have coworkers closer than a few thousand miles away. I could have chosen to get an office by myself or work from home, but I fell in love with the energy and hum created by the conversations of so many bright and interesting people working on such a wide variety of projects and ideas. I can't imagine how oppressive the silence of working alone must be.

I needed to feel connected to a community

When I first started East Coast Product, I worked from home. Although my workload was about the same, I never felt as productive. Even in my home office, I felt disconnected from my work, and it never felt quite right. Having a space where you are surrounded by pure productivity does wonders for morale and your own productivity. Even if your neighbor works in a completely different industry, it’s incredibly helpful to be in proximity of some like-minded hustlers.

To offer others my expertise

At home, there are 100 distractions. Working at WeWork removes the distractions, and you get to meet lots of individuals working towards a similar goal: launching and running a successful business. Also, from a business perspective, there are multiple opportunities to help others in the WeWork network with what I do—strategy and social media—so that's a big benefit as well.

To support a growing team

We actually worked out of my apartment for our first year of business, but it eventually got to the point where we just didn't have enough room. (Surprisingly, it's pretty hard to fit 10 plus desks and people into a one-bedroom apartment.) It's motivating seeing all the companies grinding every day.

So I could grow my business

Beyond the couch and coffee shop being terribly lonely? WeWork for us was a no-brainer when we received our first operating grant. Over the past year, we have set up WeWork offices in Chicago, D.C., and Philadelphia. Because the accounting systems and processes are all synced, it has been ​virtually ​seamless for us ​as we expand and grow.​  ​

To be exposed to new ideas

When we launched The Spitfire Group, a client offered us space in his office, which was very kind. However, we discovered we were not being exposed to new thinking and ideas, which is so important in a startup. Also, the chance to share your experiences with other entrepreneurs on similar journeys is very affirming. And we want work to be fun.

Tim Kilcoyne never sees most of the people for whom he cooks every day. The thousands of meals that are prepared and packed under his watchful eye are delivered to shelters for people displaced by the wildfires that have devastated California.

But he knows first-hand what it’s like to be in their position. Last December, he was one of more than 100,000 people forced to evacuate to a nearby shelter when a wildfire swept through Ventura County, just west of Los Angeles. While waiting 10 days until he could return home, Kilcoyne, the owner of Scratch Sandwich Counter, was eager to find a way to put his skills to good use.

He connected with World Central Kitchen, an organization that travels the globe to provide hot meals to people in emergency situations. Soon he was cooking meals in a borrowed commercial kitchen for his neighbors, who had also been evacuated, and the first responders who had arrived from across the country to battle the blaze.

Above: Chef Tim Kilcoyne supervises meals prepared at the temporary facility run by World Central Kitchen in Camarillo, California. Top: Volunteers deliver meals bound for people left homeless by wildfires.

Over the past year he’s taken time off from his sandwich shop to work with the organization, leading teams of volunteers after Hurricane Florence destroyed parts of Florida and the Carolinas, and after the Kilauea volcano leveled entire neighborhoods in Hawaii. Now he’s back on his home turf of California, where wildfires are once again roaring through his county.

“In each location, it has been tough dealing with the devastation,” says Kilcoyne. He was on a break from where he and a regular team of about a dozen people were dishing out meals at Casa Pacifica Centers for Children and Families, a treatment center for at-risk children a few miles from the fires. “But it has been amazing to see the communities come together.”

World Central Kitchen, which is based at WeWork Universal North in Washington, D.C., has fewer than 10 full-time staffers, but it’s been able to serve more than 4.8 million meals since it was founded by renowned chef José Andrés in 2010. Last year, after Hurricane Maria left most of Puerto Rico without water or electricity, the organization had teams on the ground that provided 3 million meals to suddenly homeless citizens. In California, where wildfires are burning across the state, it’s serving thousands of meals a day.

A volunteer loads meals into a truck bound for emergency shelters around Ventura County, California.

Jeanette Morelan, World Central Kitchen’s communications and marketing manager, says that many of the organization’s volunteers start out as people in need. “We meet people in these disaster situations and they become part of our family,” she says.

Fighting disasters on several fronts

In California, the extent of the wildfires is astounding. In Butte County, less than 100 miles north of Sacramento, the Camp Fire has burned 140,000 acres, taking with it over 10,000 structures, including almost the entire town of Paradise. It’s the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California history, with 73 people dead and almost 700 missing.

The wildfires spreading through California are clearly visible from the temporary facility run by World Central Kitchen.

The Woolsey and Hill Fires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties have altogether burned more than 100,000 acres, destroying nearly 500 structures, with tens of thousands more in danger.

To make meals for the hundreds of families displaced by the fires, World Central Kitchen partners with local catering companies and other businesses with commercial food-preparation facilities. It also works with local governments, police forces, and fire departments to identify people in need. Many evacuees have gone for weeks without a hot meal.

The menu depends on the location but leans toward hearty dishes like macaroni and cheese. “It’s a bit of everything,” Morelan says. “It’s the community’s idea of comfort food.”

Two Red Cross workers inspect damage to a line of vehicles.

World Central Kitchen often works with other relief organizations, including the American Red Cross, to feed people at shelters. The Red Cross has more than 500 people responding to the crisis in California, supporting evacuation centers and setting up shelters. In addition to providing places to stay, it offers medical care and mental health counseling to help people get on the path to recovery.

One test facing the Red Cross is finding enough volunteers to work in high-need areas, especially during the holiday season. “It’s incredibly challenging, particularly in a community that is so hard-hit, to manage to find the workforce to then provide that response,” says Hilary Palotay, a senior associate at the Red Cross. She works from an office at WeWork 1601 Vine St in Hollywood.

Palotay points out that the Red Cross isn’t on the ground in only California. Major relief efforts are still underway in the Carolinas, where Hurricane Florence came ashore in September, and in the Florida Panhandle, where Hurricane Michael made landfall in October. Many people volunteering in these areas have lost their homes as well.

Volunteers with the relief organization Nechama get their assignment for the day.

“The hurricane-affected regions have developed a sort of resiliency through a cyclical hurricane season happening every year,” says Palotay. “That’s their community, and I just see people stand up left and right.”

Help comes from far away

Not all the organizations responding to these hard-hit areas are based in the U.S. IsraAID, an Israeli nonprofit started in 2001, deploys volunteers around the world. It’s working in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas.

“A lot of people see disasters happen and think there’s no way to make a change or help people,” says Niv Rabino, head of mission for IsraAID.

After wildfires roared through California’s Sonoma County last fall, IsraAID—which has an office at WeWork Galleria Office Tower I in Houston—set up shop in a local synagogue. The organization offered mental health programs, including one to help young people deal with trauma and loss in their lives.

Nechama, a nonprofit guided by the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, or acts of loving kindness, is at work on several fronts, including doing hurricane relief in South Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico. Volunteers are also working in flood-ravaged areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Another team will soon deploy to California.

David Kaplan, the group’s executive director, says that although Nechama is a faith-based organization, a majority of its staff and volunteers are not Jewish.

“We have church groups, we have nonreligious volunteers, we get groups from mosques,” says Kaplan, based at WeWork The National in Chicago. “They all come together to work with us because we all have a shared belief that we have a responsibility to help our neighbors, to bring healing to the world, to comfort those who are in mourning.”

Much of Kaplan’s team focuses on “muck and gut” jobs—emptying outhouses that have been damaged by wind and rain. Other are repairing and rebuilding homes to make them safe, dry, and “shelterable.”

When he was supervising his team in Texas, Kaplan met a couple in their 60s who survived Hurricane Harvey by sitting on top of their bed with their dogs, hoping the flood waters wouldn’t rise above their heads. The water had come in through one side of their house and broken through the other. “Basically there was a river moving through their home,” he says.

A year later, their house was still in shambles. But Nachama was able to make it habitable again by rebuilding it in a matter of days. “You could just see the burden lifting from their shoulders,” Kaplan says. “You could see how happy they were from just this simple act of support.”

The feeling of a job well done is what makes it worth it for Kaplan and his team. “When you’re physically working on someone’s home and they’ve lost everything and they’ve lost hope, you can bring them home, you can bring them comfort, you can bring them that healing that is needed,” he says. “Your passion comes out really quickly. You don’t do this work and put up with all the uncomfortableness that comes with it if you’re not passionate about the work that you’re doing.”

Once you have a great idea you think can change the world, one of the most important next steps is securing funding. While there might not be one formula for finding financing for your business, those who have done it say there are ways to increase your chances. The top winners at WeWork’s Creator Awards Berlin 2018—both of which are focused on solving intractable problems—share their tips for landing funding for a purpose-driven idea.

Look for grants in the beginning

“People working in the social impact realm are usually willing to reduce their profits in order to make an impact,” said Lucas Paes de Melo, founder and CEO of Amparo, which makes affordable prosthetic devices accessible around the world. The company took home the grand prize in the Business Venture category at Creator Awards Berlin. “Investors don’t necessarily want to see that.”

At the Creator Awards Berlin, part of a global competition sponsored by Wework, Amparo won €318,000 (about $362,000). Paes de Melo says the funding will help Amparo “get closer to our vision of building our clinics and increasing access to prosthetics in every corner of the planet.”  

Felix Hallwachs, managing director at the Berlin-based Little Sun Foundation, pitches the nonprofit at the Creator Awards Berlin.

When you’re in the early stages of your business plan, the Berlin-based entrepreneur highly recommends looking for grant funding to create a proof of concept and build a track record.

“There are a lot of governmental institutions and organizations, like the European Union, for instance, as well as different kinds of foundations offering grants,”” he says. “Even some banks give out grants.” Amparo received early funding from government grants and a business development bank, among other sources, which supported the company’s mission and helped it scale.

Be clear about your vision and purpose

Whether it’s writing grant applications or speaking to potential investors, it’s crucial to clearly communicate the problem you’re tackling and how your company is the best solution.

“Think about why your project is an interesting prospect for the person you’re talking to,” says Felix Hallwachs, managing director at the Berlin-based Little Sun Foundation, the winner in the Nonprofit category. Completely financed by grants and donations, Little Sun Foundation provides solar-powered lamps to areas with little or no electricity. “You have to inspire people to believe in your model, your idea, and your thinking.”

Founded by internationally renowned artist Olafur Eliasson, Little Sun took home €60,000 ($68,000) in funding at the Creator Awards Berlin.  

Halliwachs advises to be aware of the kind of language you’re using when pitching your idea to potential funders. Remember that many of them won’t be well-versed in your industry. Avoid jargon. Use easy-to-understand language. And most important of all, tell a compelling story.

The Amparo team faced challenges early on because the prosthetics industry uses an array of technical terms. “Frame the problem so people understand what you’re doing,” Pais de Melo says. “Make sure to communicate the benefits of your solution and why it’s better than what’s already out there.”

Have your numbers ready

Perhaps the best way to impress potential backers is by showing metrics that demonstrate the impact your company is making. Regardless of the industry, investors love numbers that justify why they should put money into the cause.

“Make sure to be specific when outlining how your startup will use the investment to fuel growth,” says Pais de Melo. “Even if you have a beautiful product that’s solving a big problem, you have to convince investors with numbers on why they should give you money, what the gains would be, and exactly how you’ll use the funding.”

At the Creator Awards Berlin, Pais de Melo had the number of people his startup had already helped at his fingertips. It’s one of the reasons his company impressed the judges and went home with the evening’s top prize.

Last week, a historic number of women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. But it’s not those headline-making victories—like that of Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress—that Erin Vilardi, the founder and CEO of VoteRunLead, a nonprofit that trains women to run for office, is most proud of. It’s the smaller campaigns that brought change on a local level.

“There were these stories about women ousting people who were highly discriminatory, and it’s so inspiring,” she says. One such story happened in-house: VoteRunLead’s national training director, Faith Winter, is a Colorado state representative-elect who ran against her alleged harasser––who himself faced accusations from 11 other women. “She ended up running for his seat [in the Colorado state legislature] and replaced him,” says Vilardi.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (right) speaks at the Women & Power 2018 conference at WeWork Times Square.

That’s exactly the kind of movement Vilardi hoped VoteRunLead would spark. Her history with the organization goes back to 2004 when she helped found it as part of The White House Project, which worked to increase female representation in institutions, businesses, and government. When that shuttered in 2014, Vilardi turned VoteRunLead into a standalone organization. Since then, she’s helped more than 33,000 women run for office and is planning to train another 30,000 women by 2020.

Unlike other organizations that help raise money for or mobilize volunteers around candidates, VoteRunLead is all about providing the how to women who want to run. Via a training methodology called Run As You Are, the group teaches women the hard skills around campaigning, fundraising, and building a team. “We believe that women have the skills and talents already to run––we just help transfer them into the political realm,” Vilardi says. “They’re learning how to craft a narrative, how to deal with sexism and harassment, and all these practical actions that speed up your political literacy.”

Ilhan Omar, a Muslim women recently elected to Congress, speaks at a VoteRunLead event.

Part of that training is one- and three-day in-person training sessions at WeWork locations across the country (Vilardi and her staff of six are based in WeWork Harlem); since the 2016 election, Vote Run Lead has been active in 25 cities. The organization plans to expand to 14 WeWork cities next year.

In 2018, 80 percent of VoteRunLead alumni advanced in the primaries, and 50 percent went on to win. On Nov. 12, Vilardi celebrated those wins at VoteRunLead’s Women & Power 2018 conference at WeWork Times Square in New York. “We really see this as just the beginning of women claiming their roles in government,” she says.

Women from all over the country attended what Vilardi deemed “Radical Conversations With Barrier-Breaking Women,” including New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whose name has been floated as a possible 2020 presidential candidate; one of Glamour’s College Women of the Year, who is planning a campaign for school board; and Lauren Underwood, the 32-year-old congresswoman-elect from Illinois and the youngest African-American woman to serve in Congress (and the first VoteRunLead alumna to be elected to Congress).

Underwood and Ilhan Omar both attended VoteRunLead trainings. Ilhan did so beginning in 2014 and became a certified VoteRunLead trainer, then won her seat in the state before running for Congress. Underwood attended the Minneapolis training in 2017; during her campaign, her staff viewed VoteRunLead video resources.

As high-profile as the congressional campaigns of those women were, VoteRunLead also helped train Gerri Cannon, one of three transgender elected state representatives; Kim Norton, the first female mayor of Rochester, Minnesota; and Brenda Lopez, the first Latina elected to the Georgia State Assembly. “We really specialize in local and state offices,” says Vilardi. “And we’re nonpartisan—we’re not going to turn a woman away who wants to get a political education.”

In fact, the organization is turning its focus to local elections, like the 19,000 school-board seats that are up in 2019, and building their state-representative benches. “There are only so many hundreds of federal seats,” says Vilardi. “But there are 519,682 other seats across the country.”

For now, VoteRunLead is riding the wave of positivity that came from the recent elections. “I really think people felt really positive about seeing these local wins for women, that it wasn’t just this national handful of women,” says Vilardi. “There’s a wave of diverse women underneath them coming up and running locally. Everyone keeps calling it an ocean, an ocean of women that’s ready to keep going and keep running.”

Erin Geiger Smith contributed to this report.

The judges at WeWork’s Creator Awards Berlin had a tough time deciding which of the five startups competing in the Business Venture category would go home with the top prize. All five delivered persuasive pitches explaining why their mission-driven companies deserved to win.

In the end, the judges split the difference, handing out prizes to three companies. Lucas Paes de Melo of Amparo, which makes affordable prosthetic devices available to amputees around the world, accepted the top prize of the night, taking home a whopping €318,000 (about $362,000). “With the funds from the Creators Award,” he told the crowd of 2,493 people, “we’ll get closer to our vision of building our clinics and increasing access to prosthetics in every corner of the planet.”  

Meetup’s Togetherfest hosted a variety of sessions for people to connect to each other, including eye-contact experiments.

Beelinguapp, a language-learning app that garnered 1.5 million users in its first six months, received €158,000 (about $180,000). And the climate change crowdfunding platform Plan A walked away with €62,000 (about $70,000).

Held in a massive industrial building along the Spree River, the Creator Awards Berlin awarded a total of more than €600,000 ($685,000) in prize money. Since the Creator Awards was started in 2017, WeWork has given away millions in funding to more than 200 winners.

Business Venture finalist Liz Sauer Williamson explains how she started Löwenzahn Organics.

This is the second time the Creator Awards has been held in the German capital. The Berlin edition marks the eighth and final stop this year for the Creator Awards until the Global Finals, which will take place in Los Angeles in January.

After the crowd watched inspirational videos about the three Nonprofit finalists, host Adi Neumann announced that none of them would be going home empty-handed. The top prize of €60,000 ($68,000) went to Felix Hallwachs and Eva Brandt of the Little Sun Foundation, which delivers solar lamps to remote places with little or no electricity. When asked about what the funding will be used for, Hallwachs said that about 2,500 kids and 13,000 of their family members would receive access to the lamps, “making learning easier and their nights a little brighter.”

Lucas Paes de Melo of the prosthetics company Amparo celebrates his big win at the Creator Awards Berlin.

Two other nonprofit organizations, ShareTheMeal, an app that makes it easy to sponsor meals for children in need, and ZuBaKa, which helps refugee students in Germany, both took home €15,000 ($17,000).

In the lead-up to the awards ceremony, Meetup’s Togetherfest hosted a variety of sessions for people to connect to each other, including book swaps, portrait drawing, and even eye-contact experiments. The latter activity encouraged people to share one minute of eye contact with a stranger while sitting across from one another on comfortable pillows.

DJ Mark Ronson gets the crowd moving at the Creator Awards Berlin.

At the pop-up market and job fair that took place before the awards, attendees were treated to swag and face-to-face chats with companies that are hiring like Moo, Homify, and Airbnb.

The awards ceremony started off with a brass ensemble called the No Limit Street Band playing lively renditions of tunes like Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” But it wasn’t until they played the nineties hit “Stop” by the Spice Girls that the audience really let loose.

The evening also ended with music as the Grammy award-winning artist Mark Ronson, a musician, DJ, and record producer for singers like Adele, Amy Winehouse, and Lady Gaga, spun a set. Not for the first time that evening, the crowd was on its feet.