Caneel Joyce thought the perfect place for her business was San Francisco. After all, the former startup leader coaches CEOs and other high-level executives on powering through rapid growth, navigating difficult transitions, and approaching exits. Her background in tech, combined with the city’s proximity to Silicon Valley, meant that her client roster was always full.

But in 2015, Joyce relocated her business and her family 400 miles south to Los Angeles, where she joined forces with the coaching and culture firm Evolution. She’s been based out of LA’s WeWork Manhattan Beach Towers ever since that location opened its doors.

Why the move? San Francisco, she says, “was becoming so impossibly, narrowly competitive.”

“There wasn’t as much space to be a whole human being anymore,” she says, “especially if you wanted to have a family.”

Joyce is one of the many female founders who believe that the Los Angeles area is a better base for their business. And the data backs this up. In a report released earlier this month, WeWork revealed that 60 percent of its female members working for small businesses in and around Los Angeles are executives or sole proprietors. Another 32 percent are in management.

Women cite a host of reasons that helped them decide to put down roots in Los Angeles –– LA’s entrepreneurial spirit, the professional opportunities, the physical and geographic resources that the city puts into play.

WeWork Los Angeles
In a report released earlier this month, WeWork revealed that 60 percent of its female members working for small businesses in and around Los Angeles are executives or sole proprietors.

There’s also support from local governments. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti has brought together women entrepreneurs to discuss how to attract more female-owned businesses to the city. In February he launched a diversity initiative whose first recipient was the Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program.

Lindsey Horvath, a member of the West Hollywood City Council, notes that her community “has a strong history of supporting women.” WeWork La Brea is located within her city’s borders.

Horvath says she and her fellow committee members are “committed to helping effect positive change that creates opportunities for women across sectors and throughout our city and the region.”

Female founders make their mark

Bian Li, founder of the startup incubator The Hungry Lab, loves the creativity and sense of possibility that permeates LA’s entrepreneurial community. She says it helps encourage female founders to make their mark here.

“LA’s a place where a lot of people come to escape old expectations,” she says. Li had lived around the world working as an investment banker, but when it came time to start her own company, she knew Los Angeles was the place.

“To be honest, I was a weather refugee,” she says, laughing. “But I always knew that I wanted to come out here, even when I was younger. I think there’s a lack of pretension here versus out east. And there’s a lack of preconceived notions. The entrepreneurial culture is more towards ‘Oh, let’s try this.’ I think it’s influenced by the creative aspect of where we live.”

WeWork Los Angeles
In Los Angeles, the distance from Silicon Valley and its intense competition has helped create a solidarity among female entrepreneurs.

Li points to some of the industries that predominate in the LA area — fashion, beauty, health and wellness — as being more female-friendly. WeWork’s recent study showed that its members are much more likely to work in these fields: Three out of four members in the LA area are part of the innovation economy, which includes creative fields like apparel, broadcasting, and entertainment. That compares to just 15 percent of all workers in the area.

Joyce says she sees a definite difference among her clients, who are less in the tech sector than they were in LA.

“A lot of my clients are tech-enabled commerce companies,” she says. “They’re direct-to-consumer brands. Some of them are more in the media and entertainment space. And, historically, these industries have had more women in them.”

The distance from Silicon Valley and its intense competition has helped create a solidarity among entrepreneurs.

“It’s not like every other person is in tech, so there’s this need for us to come together even more in LA, to find each other and to create a tribe,” she says.

Li agrees, saying that the question Angelenos ask themselves is: “What’s the opportunity here, and how can we all help each other rise together?” And that goes double for women.

A culture of inclusivity

Having a culture of inclusivity helps create more leadership roles for women in business. LA’s diversity — in 2016 it came in seventh in a ranking of the most diverse cities in America — inspired Shereen Youssef, who founded a nonprofit called Create a Smile, to make sure that her hiring practices were on point.

“It doesn’t get any more diverse than LA,” says Youssef, who is based at Irvine’s WeWork Spectrum Center. “And it’s really important to know the diversity, to understand it. I was able to look at my organization and say, ‘Do I have the diversity to reflect my community? Do I have enough talent from different angles to be able to provide for the families that we provide for?’”

Ensuring that her organization is welcoming is a priority for Youssef because Create a Smile works with the families of children with cancer to help make their lives a little more joyful. The idea is not to just give a gift, Youssef explains, “but also help them spiritually and emotionally to feel good.” She hopes that if they feel better, they’ll heal better, too.

Youssef relies on the community at her WeWork to help her find others with whom she can collaborate. She likes that “everyone is at the same level,” which she says helps foster a network of young companies helping each other grow. About 62 percent of the businesses at WeWork were started in the last five years, compared to 36 percent nationwide.

“My CPA is from WeWork,” Youssef says. “My website designer is from WeWork, as is my graphic designer. All of the vendors for our events come from WeWork. I kind of made it a pact with myself, because they provided such a great network. It was a great opportunity to meet people, so I just strictly went with WeWork.”

This type of top-down inclusivity is common in LA startups, and it helps foster diversity in the broader business community by ensuring that “non-typical” entrepreneurs are mentored and encouraged. Women in all fields tend to find one another and band together, creating the support systems that they need to succeed. So perhaps LA’s female workforce is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: Get one woman to open a business, and she’ll help three others open theirs.

To help facilitate that process, Joyce runs a network called The Trust, which brings together “amazing women” eager to “relate to each other as whole people, and not just a slice of their identity.”

Joyce points to the inclusion language that one of the region’s biggest venture capital firms, Upfront, requires of its portfolio companies as indicative of how all kinds of companies are helping women rise through the ranks in LA.

The language isn’t just general platitudes about fostering diversity — it specifically asks that “at least one woman and/or member of a population currently underrepresented within the company shall be formally interviewed for any open executive position.”

That language is available online for other businesses to use, in order to help create further systemic change around who gets big infusions of capital to match their big ideas.

A collaborative atmosphere

That type of systemic change is critical, but sometimes smaller, more specific interpersonal networks help keep the women of LA doing their thing.

“I think compared to New York, say, LA is more collaborative,” says Whitney Bickers, who owns a store called Myrtle that sells clothing produced by independent female designers. “Everyone’s out to get their own in New York, and here it’s kind of like, ‘Let’s work on things together, let’s have an environment where other people are around me doing other things.’”

This collaborative spirit and willingness to share resources helped her design, produce, and launch her first in-house line of clothing: “That’s been a huge part of me doing my house line, is that I can ask other people, ‘How and where are you doing this?’ And they actually answer me.”  

Bickers originally came to LA to work in entertainment, but she couldn’t imagine how she could keep her job and also start a family.

Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy either, but it’s given her the opportunity to pursue her dream, which is, she says, the reason almost everyone comes to LA. Because this is a city of fantasy, where the restless and unsettled come to see if they can reshape the world, or at least their own lives.

“If someone else is not giving you a chance,” Bickers says, “I feel like there are a lot of people in LA who are like, ‘Well, then I’ll do it for myself.’”

Reporting on the ongoing civil war that had spilled over from Syria into Lebanon, René Cao says she witnessed suffering on a scale unlike anything she’d ever seen before. But despite the hardships she encountered in war zones and refugee camps, she found herself inspired by the selflessness of the people she encountered.

The former reporter for Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV network now works for a bitcoin exchange based out of Shanghai’s WeWork Financial Center. But the Chinese citizen has never forgotten the people she met when she was on assignment in Lebanon in 2011.

“The people I met really shaped my values,” says Cao. “They have driven me to do something for someone else, not just care about myself. As a journalist, I thought I could use my skills to tell their stories and share them with the world. I knew their voices needed to be heard.”

Her determination to help the displaced people in the Middle East led her to found the Ponybaby Project, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for the education of refugee children.

In 2014, she decided to return to Lebanon to document the lives of young people there. Finding a videographer was tough — her first one dropped out after a terrorist attack in Paris — but her editor connected her to Olmo Reverter. Together Cao and Reverter made a documentary called The Hard Stop: The Plight of Syrian Refugee Children, which reached more than 10 million viewers in China alone.

“Flying over with Olmo and shooting that first documentary was really a turning point in my life,” says Cao, who is 30. “I had no idea at the time that I was going to carry on with this project. What I really wanted to do was tell their stories.”

Within a year the team had officially set up the Ponybaby Project. Cao and her partners tell moving stories through articles, documentaries, and photo exhibitions. In honor of World Refugee Day, she and her team hosted a panel discussion on the crisis in Syria at WeWork Shanghai Finance Center.

Cao says the name was inspired by a verse in a famous Chinese poem, which loosely translates to: “Take your dream as a horse, act your glorious youth.”

The Ponybaby Project partnered with Pear Video, one of China’s leading video platforms, to broadcast its Orphans of the World series. It recently embarked on a new series called Their Responses that follows more than a dozen Syrian refugees living across the Middle East. The Ponybaby Project also teamed up with Tencent Charity, one of the leading fundraising platforms in China, to help raise money to help refugees directly.

Niu Song, a professor of Middle East Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, likes the “community spirit” displayed by the Ponybaby Project team.

“I believe that the stories and documentaries displayed by Ponybaby Project, as first-hand information, can honestly uncover the real status of the refugees, including their basic life, children’s education, job employment, and willingness to return to their home country,” says Song, who was among the speakers at the panel discussion.

All of the funds raised by the Ponybaby Project go towards scholarships for families living in refugee camps who can’t afford their children’s school fees, materials, and books.

“Almost 90 percent of Syrian refugees are in debt,” says Lisa Abou Khaled, who works for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Parents are having to resort to difficult choices like pulling their children out of school and sending them to work because they can’t afford to feed the family anymore.”

Since Cao’s first visit to the Middle East, the humanitarian crisis in Syria has claimed the lives of 70,000 civilians and displaced 5 million others. Despite the scale of trauma, Cao says the refugee crisis is rarely discussed in her native China. But that’s part of the goal—to start the conversation by bringing the personal stories of refugees to households across the country.

“Many people don’t have a chance to talk with refugees, so they have a very unclear concept of who they are,” says Cao. “They’re often treated like wild animals, vulnerable and unpredictable. But they want to live with respect and dignity, just like everyone else.”

Photo by Nicholas Tortajada

Even before the lights went up on the stage, the WeWork Creator Awards was literally one of the biggest events of the year in Jerusalem. Nearly 4,000 people packed a stadium that usually hosts basketball games, and they came from as far away as Tel Aviv, Herzliya, and Be’er Sheva. It was also the largest regional competition so far for the awards, hosted in cities around the world.

At the job fair and pop-up market held before the awards, there were so many people that it was sometimes difficult to navigate the aisles. People eagerly pushed forward for free samples of food — even crispy grasshoppers.

When WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann finally stepped onto the stage, the event had the feeling of a homecoming. Neumann and his sister Adi Neumann, a model who hosted the event, both grew up on a kibbutz not far away.

WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann and his sister Adi share a moment at the Jerusalem Creator Awards.

“It’s a really special city and really special to be here,” said Adi from what is usually the home court for the HaPoel Jerusalem Basketball Club.

This is the second time the Creator Awards has been held in Israel. In October more than $1 million was awarded to winners at an event in Tel Aviv. In Jerusalem — where a WeWork location is slated to open later this year — a total of $774,000 went to eight winners.

Host Adi Neumann announces the winners in the business ventures category at the Jerusalem Creator Awards.

Here are some of the most unique and exciting highlights of the evening.

Most progressive fashion statement: More than 30 local artists, companies, and nonprofit organizations took part in a pop-up market on the arena’s concourse. There were bright paintings on canvas, glittering jewelry, natural beauty products, and plenty of T-shirts, including some emblazoned with the words “I’m Not for Sale,” part of a campaign against prostitution and human trafficking by the local nonprofit Turning the Tables, which was also a finalist at the Creator Awards.

Best product you can bury: Perhaps the most intriguing items for sale were paper greeting cards that weren’t just recyclable — they could actually be planted in the ground. Made by the Israeli company Paper Bloom, there are nine types of seeds embedded in the paper of the cards, resulting in several types of flowers that bloom throughout the year.

Winners in the nonprofit category of the Jerusalem Creator Awards pose for a photo together.

Best way to attract a crowd: More than 30 companies and nonprofits staffed tables at the event’s job fair, including half a dozen Creator Awards winners from last year’s event in Tel Aviv., The participants, like Yahoo’s Israeli R&D team and Taboola, were looking to hire a total of more than 70 people. Among the most attention-grabbing booths was that of the Israel Innovation Fund, a nonprofit promoting culture and creativity in Israel, whose table was covered with bottles of local wine.

Most popular souvenir: The most intriguing table at the job fair belonged to Hargol, an Israeli company that produces food products made from grasshoppers. The company — the top winner at the Tel Aviv Creator Awards — caught many people’s eyes with jars of roasted grasshoppers. About 40 percent of people who stopped by the table sampled them, leaving their transparent wings and crispy legs in little piles on the table. Many people then pocketed full jars to take home. “People keep taking them when we’re not looking,” said Hargol CEO Dror Tamir. “I don’t blame them. It really is the best souvenir.”

Most practical swag: The most in-demand item of the evening appeared to be bright red bags emblazoned with the words “Work Happy.” These were from Jobbio, the Dublin-based online hiring platform. “Personally I think they are quite eye-catching,” said Jobbio’s account manager Martha Hayes, who traveled from Dublin to attend the event in Jerusalem. “And they are a useful place to keep the rest of your swag.”

Netta Barzilai, who recently propelled Israel to Eurovision champion, is surrounded by fans.

Favorite food: At a moment when Israeli cuisine has been making global headlines, tables filled with local specialties were scattered throughout the event’s pop-up market and job fair. Popular items included fresh pitas stuffed with chicken, lamb, fish, or roasted vegetables and topped with cilantro-infused tahini. There were also tiny jars of creamy malabi pudding topped with pomegranate syrup and pistachio nuts. But the biggest hit may have been the chocolate chip cookies, baked on the premises in a giant oven by Pilpel Catering. “Holy Moses, these are good,” said one person who sampled them.

Most creative cocktail: Open bars served beer, wine, and craft cocktails all night long. People seemed to love the Golden City, a drink inspired by Jerusalem and made from vodka and honey and garnished with fresh cucumbers.

Most mind-blowing performance: For those who could tear themselves away from the party-like scene at the pop-up market, the highlight of the masterclasses was a show by Israeli mentalist Lior Suchard. As usual, the internationally known performer wowed the audience by reading people’s minds. At one point he seemed to know some participants better than they knew themselves. When asking one woman how many letters were in the name of her first crush, she kept saying five. Suchard replied, “Are you sure it isn’t six?” Sure enough, Suchard guessed the name, and there were indeed six letters.

Most tear-inducing moment: After the audience heard inspiring stories from all of the night’s finalists, it was Kaima Farm, which helps teeneagers who have dropped out of school, that took home the top prize for nonprofit ventures. Yoni Yefet-Reich, Kaima’s CEO, immediately handed the prize over to one of the teenagers who said his life had been transformed by his time on the farm.

Biggest winner: The $360,000 grand prize went to Yehudit Abrams, a recent American immigrant to Israel, for her startup MonitHer, which is developing a hand-held ultrasound device women can use for monthly breasts exams. The device will alert them to any changes in tissue, a key to early diagnosis of breast cancer. “I’m empowering women,” Abrams said, holding up her award.

Best show of hometown pride: Moments after Abrams was showered in sparkly confetti, another top figure in women’s empowerment, Netta Barzilai, who recently propelled Israel to Eurovision champion with her song “Toy,” took the stage to kick off the real party part of the evening. The crowd gathered around her, wildly snapping photos.

When Raffi Rembrand’s son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4, it was not the worst news the family received that day. The biggest blow came when their doctor said it was too late for the earliest treatments.

So for Rembrand, a chemical engineer by training, finding a way to detect autism earlier became his life’s mission.

Now, more than three decades after his son was diagnosed with autism, Rembrand has founded an Israeli company, SensPD, which he hopes will accomplish just that. 

SensPD, a winner in the WeWork Creator Awards held on June 20 in Jerusalem, is developing a way to detect autism based on physiological signs. The company uses an existing device commonly used to check the hearing of newborns, but has modified it to check for sensory perception. One of the major components of autism, which affects one of every 59 children born in the U.S., is its effect on the sensory system.

“We didn’t reinvent the wheel,” says Maayan Shahar, SensPD’s CEO.  “But we have altered a very known device used in all hospitals that will hopefully provide a standard screening process for all babies.”

The goal is for such a test to eventually become standard for every baby born around the world, allowing the various treatments for autism to start as soon as possible. When started very early in life, some therapies have a success rate of up to 90 percent.

“It’s been known for a long time that it’s early intervention that makes all the difference,” Shahar says.

But the standard diagnosis of autism based on a series of evaluations often comes after a children has reached the age of 3 or 4, which is too late for some treatments.

SensPD is currently preparing to start clinical trials in Israel. It hopes that if all goes well it will get regulatory approval for its device within three years.

Rembrand’s son, now 35 and living in a group home in Israel, remains an inspiration for the company.

“We want to bring this to market as soon as possible, but in the most professional way,” Shahar says.  ”So that instead of being isolated, children with autism can be a productive part of society.”

While Yehudit Abrams was working as a postdoctoral fellow at NASA, her job was to research the potential use of ultrasound to monitor astronauts on long missions to the international space station. But when her cousin, a gynecologist and breast cancer survivor, was killed in a car accident in 2011, Abrams started thinking of other uses for the medical device.

“She was so passionate about the early detection of cancer, and I wanted to honor her for that,” says Abrams, a physician and mechanical engineer who immigrated to Israel last year from California. “That is what got me thinking about using some sort of portable ultrasound for early detection of cancer.”

Abrams founded MonitHer, a Jerusalem-based startup that is developing a handheld ultrasound device that women can use at home to monitor their breast tissue. The device and its potential to change the way breast cancer is detected is why MonitHer was the big winner the WeWork Creator Awards, held in Jerusalem on June 20. Her company took home $360,000.

“I’m empowering women,” Abrams told the crowd, holding up her award.

An early prototype of the MonitHer scanner.

Women using the device will scan their breasts once a month for about 10 minutes. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved software program then scans the images for any changes over time. If the software detects any potential problems, users will be advised to consult a physician.

By monitoring breast tissue over time, Abrams says women will be able to detect cancer earlier than the traditional method of self-exams where women feel each breast in order to find lumps or swelling.

“We are changing the paradigm from breast cancer screening to breast health monitoring,” Abrams says.

Once more than 100,000 women begin to use the device and upload their scans to the app each month, artificial intelligence and machine learning methods will be used to evaluate tissue changes.

While mammography has long been the best way to diagnose breast cancer, it is less effective on certain women, especially those with dense breast tissue. And the current protocols for breast cancer detection have recently been questioned for resulting in the unnecessary treatment of tumors that may never grow in size or harm a women’s health.

“We are wasting billions of dollars of year treating cancer that women don’t have, and this is because we have stopped innovating,” Abrams said. “Medicine is a dinosaur.”