Being an active member of the military teaches you a lot: how to work with a team, how to think differently, how to persevere in the face of adversity. Those are all crucial skills to serve and protect—but also excellent traits for people who want to start their own businesses. And that’s exactly how women are channeling their military prowess once they re-enter civilian life.

Take Lindsey Church, a member at Seattle’s WeWork 500 Yale Ave. N. and former Navy linguist. She founded Minority Veterans of America, which serves underrepresented veterans across the country. “As a female veteran, I almost never saw female veterans,” she says. “As a gender-nonconforming veteran, I felt like the only one in the room. And I realized, within the veteran community, I saw no people of color, no religious minorities. But I got so sick of complaining about it; I just wanted to do something about it.”

“We’ve been here all along but we’re starting to be welcomed to the table,” says Lindsey Church of Minority Veterans of America.

At WeWork, nearly 30 percent of the national Veterans in Residence program—a partnership with Bunker Labs, a nonprofit that helps veterans start their own businesses—are female entrepreneurs, almost double the number of women recruits in the military (women represent about 16 percent of the armed forces).

And while veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans regardless of gender, according to the U.S. Small Business Association, business is especially booming for women: Between 2007 and 2012, according to preliminary data from the Survey of Business Owners, the number of businesses owned by female veterans more than tripled, to 384,574 businesses from 130,000—more than any other population segment.

Redefining what it means to be a veteran

Church’s organization has grown to 600 members and 4,000-plus Facebook followers in a year, with representatives in Seattle (Church’s home base); Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles; Chicago; Colorado Springs; Washington, D.C.; and elsewhere. They’re working to give all minority veterans a voice, create an inclusive community, and eliminate the stereotype of what a veteran looks like. That transition, thanks to entrepreneurs like Church, is already starting to happen.

“For a long time, the narrative has been that veterans are straight, white, Christian men,” she says. “But as more women join the military—and more become vets—there’s more recognition happening for female veterans. We’ve been here all along but we’re starting to be welcomed to the table, which is changing what we’re capable of doing.”  

And they’re certainly capable. Thirty-three percent of veteran entrepreneurs report having gained skills from active-duty service that are relevant to business ownership, including leadership, teamwork, project management, and focus, according to data from the Veterans in Residence program.

“I’ve had multiple corporate experiences and management jobs where I was often underutilized in order to fit the job description,” says Shelly Rood of Missilia.

“As a military veteran, I’m highly capable in so many ways—but I’ve had multiple corporate experiences and management jobs where I was often underutilized in order to fit the job description,” says Shelly Rood, a former Army all-source tactical-intelligence officer. A member at Detroit’s WeWork Campus Martius in Detroit, she created Missilia, a community for “women who kick butt.” She’s not alone—only 37 percent of female respondents to a survey by veteran nonprofit The Mission Continues said they feel “recognized, respected, and valued as veterans in civilian life.”

Rood’s organization is all about recognizing the value of strong women. Her professional speaking engagements attracted female veterans, firefighters, police, and business owners. “They were looking for a community of like-minded women, so that’s what I decided to create,” she says. Missilia celebrates the stories of extraordinary women in part with a $30 monthly subscription box that contains natural beauty products, healthy snacks, and a “tactical piece” like pepper spray, a pocket knife, or a pen that doubles as a self-defense tool. “The box was created to help reinforce what it means to be a strong woman and take care of yourself month after month,” says Rood.

Breaking new ground in the civilian world

There’s another reason female veterans are turning to entrepreneurship: There aren’t jobs available—or, rather, there aren’t jobs that they want. The overall female-veteran-unemployment rate increased to 3 percent in October 2018 from 2.1 percent from October 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, while the unemployment rate for male veterans did not change significantly.

Moreover, the Veterans in Residence program found that only 33 percent of members had a clear sense of what they wanted to do professionally after their military careers. For Dajon Ferrell, a member at Minneapolis’s WeWork Capella Tower who previously worked in the Army’s division of public affairs and marketing, it was about creating a job that ignited the same kind of passion as her military service.

“When you get out of the military, it’s hard to just go into a daily-grind mode,” says Dajon Ferrell of the Mindful Warriors podcast. “You really seek that challenge and a way to still be of service.”

“I thought the military was going to be a career for me,” she says. “When I got out and looked at what people my age were doing—that 9-to-5 life—I thought, ‘OK, so I’m going to make X amount, not really feel like I have much control over my time, and not really feel like I have a purpose? No, thanks, I’ll do it on my own.’”

Ferrell branded herself as the Mindful Veteran, an empowerment coach working with veterans or civilians who have PTSD, anxiety, depression, or who have experienced sexual trauma. On her Mindful Warriors podcast, she aims to bridge the gap between civilians and the military by featuring resources, organizations, and opportunities. “When you get out of the military, it’s hard to just go into a daily-grind mode,” she says. “You really seek that challenge and a way to still be of service.”

The armed forces as business school 101

Veterans are uniquely positioned to share their expertise in service because the military provides an intense environment for learning skills they don’t teach you in business school, from compassion and tenacity to resilience and problem-solving under life-or-death conditions. And it’s that dedication and perseverance that makes female vets successful entrepreneurs.

“I almost died in the military, and I fought tooth and nail to come out of that place,” says Church. “You want to tell me no? Bring it on. I’ve dealt with worse.”

The high-stakes nature of military jobs also makes entrepreneurial risks less scary than they might be for civilians. “In the military, you’re entrusted with high-risk, high-stakes situations and told, ‘Figure it out,’” says Rood. “And they won’t accept excuses. You have to think outside the box.”

And that’s what Ferrell wanted to do after leaving the military as well. “You come to the civilian world and you just naturally have the ability to go out and make shit happen,” she says. That’s what sets female-veteran entrepreneurs apart. “The female veterans that I’ve met all have this common understanding that nobody else is going to do it, and we’re all ready to step up,” Church says. “Women are ready to rise to the challenge.”

Back when he helped organize festivals like Burning Man, Sebastian Jünemann says his team could “build a city somewhere in the middle of nowhere for 50,000 to 70,000 people.”

That experience led him and six other people to found Cadus, a nonprofit that constructs mobile hospitals in the world’s most extreme and difficult conditions, from the frontlines of war zones to the epicenters of natural disasters. Jünemann says he wanted to bring the spirit of those big communal gatherings into humanitarian aid.

Bringing access to medical care to people in need since 2014, Cadus impressed the judges at WeWork’s Creator Awards Berlin 2017, where the organization won $130,000. Early this year, it took home another $500,000 at the Creator Awards Global Finals in New York.

Jünemann returns to the Creator Awards Berlin this week to talk about the organization’s mission. “Our main project,” he explains, “is an emergency response unit that will bring medical and technical help to the people who need it most.”

In the Cadus workshop space, volunteers and staff assemble components to outfit a mobile hospital vehicle.

Jünemann’s team of 10 full-time staffers adds as many as 40 volunteers depending on need, funding cycles, and the types of projects available. Jünemann, a member at Berlin’s WeWork Stresemannstrasse 123, says he’s “never felt such support.”

In the nonprofit’s dedicated workshop space in Berlin, Cadus builds everything a medical team might need in a crisis area. The focus is on keeping everything affordable and easily repairable. All their innovations are open-source, so they are available to other nonprofits doing similar work.

“Our aim is to develop a blueprint for mobile hospitals for small, medium, and large nonprofits in poor countries,” Jünemann says.

Treating ‘as many people as possible’

Shortly after the organization’s first mission—rushing to the scene after the Philippines was hit in 2013 by one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, Super Typhoon Yolanda—the Cadus team was asked to join a group of journalists covering a war zone in Syria. Since then, Cadus has deployed in places like Iraq and Yemen—precarious zones to which many aid organizations don’t travel. “We’ve become specialists in dirty situations,” Jünemann says.

Besides working with people whose lives have been torn apart by war, Cadus also focuses on the international refugee crisis. Their work has become more difficult as many European countries close their borders.

“A few years ago, most European states were more open than they are today,” Jünemann says. “There are a lot of efforts to close down the refugee routes, which forces the refugees to find alternatives, which are often more dangerous. That means we have to be much more mobile.”

A paramedic since 1997, Jünemann says that funding is hard to come by for a relief organization like Cadus. That’s why the continued support from WeWork has been so important.

“We equipped our emergency response unit with [the Creator Awards] money,” Jünemann says. “Before, we didn’t have any resources money-wise, so we had to ask for private donations or official funding before starting a new operation. Now, we’re ready to deploy immediately after we’ve identified a crisis.”

Cadus is currently at work in Syria and is soon starting a new project in Bosnia. It’s also implementing a new airdrop system to deliver payloads from small planes that will be deployed in Nepal before the end of the year.

“The problem after disasters is that there are not enough specialized pilots for longline operations,” Jünemann says. “With our system, it is possible to drop into these locations.”

When asked about his organization’s overarching goal, Jünemann has a simple response: to save lives.

“What we are doing is basic emergency response and basic life support,” he says. “We are going there when no one else is. If I had to name a goal, I’d say it is to treat as many people as possible.”

An investor in companies like Airnbnb, Spotify, Uber, and Warby Parker, Ashton Kutcher knows a thing or two about what kind of companies are going to be successful.

“The bottom line is it’s not just about creating a company that has numbers and revenue and is going to make money,” says the actor, producer, and entrepreneur. “It’s about a company that is going to change the world, a company that is going to change people’s lives and make a really big impact.”

Kutcher has been a judge and co-host at several of WeWork’s Creator Awards, a global competition that provides funding for some of the world’s most innovative business ventures and nonprofit organizations. After hitting seven cities so far this year, it returns this week to Berlin before heading to Los Angeles in January for the Global Finals.

Tim Ferris (seen here with fellow Creator Awards judges Tamara Steffens, Lisa Price, and Joy Mangano) says that he’s looking for companies that are mission driven.

When Kutcher is listening to founders pitch their ideas, one thing that catches his attention is tenacity.

“I am looking for a spark that shows me that the founder that has grit,” he explains. “Starting a business is hard, and you are going to come across obstacles. The people who have grit actually make it through.”

Several other judges at Creator Awards shows break down what they are looking for into a couple of different categories: Is there a well-thought-out business plan? Is the idea behind the company original? And is there a strong social good aspect?

“I’m looking at them as if they are applying for funding,” says Justine Powell, managing director at Berlin’s Handelsblatt Media Group, who will be among the judges at this week’s Creator Awards Berlin. “I’m considering whether their organization really is viable. My biggest concern is startups that are too reliant on funding. That’s not the way to run a business. They have to show that there’s a market out there.”

Although this is the first time Powell is judging a pitch competition, she has had plenty of experience with startups. Mentoring founders, she says, “is part of the job.”

“Another thing I’m going to be looking is whether something is really is a completely new idea,” says Powell. “How original it is?”

Mobile bank Monzo cofounder Jonas Templestein, a judge at the Creator Awards London, agrees that originality is one of the most important things.

“What I am looking for is defensibility,” he says, “businesses that are difficult to attack and hard to copy.”

Author, entrepreneur, and public speaker Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, was a judge at last year’s Creator Awards Global Finals in New York. He says that he’s looking for companies that are mission driven.

“Will this change lives or not?” he asks. “Not just improve things incrementally, but will this change lives or not? Yes or no? And on a scale of one to 10, what would that look like? And then, how many people will that impact?”

Michelle Kennedy, cofounder of the motherhood app Peanut, says the companies most likely to win funding are ones that inspire her.

“I’m going to be looking for a business that turns me into their biggest cheerleader,” says Kennedy, who was a judge at the Creator Awards London.

Kutcher concurs, saying that putting money into a company is a long-term commitment.

“I’m looking for an entrepreneur that I would want to work for, because I think that as an investor you end up working for every investment that you make,” he says. “So I am looking for people I want to work for and an idea that has the capacity to really impact people’s lives.”

Artist Olafur Eliasson has mounted exhibits of his large-scale sculptures at galleries and museums around the world, but the piece that might have the most lasting impact is one of the smallest.

Eliasson designed a whimsical solar lamp for Little Sun, the company he founded with engineer Frederik Ottesen in 2012. The for-profit company would sell the lamps in the developed world and use the profits to help distribute them in places where there is little or no electricity, so that school children would have light to do their homework or read in the evenings.

Earlier this year, Eliasson launched the Little Sun Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to vastly increase the number of lamps going to families around the world. The foundation is one of three groups competing this year at the Creator Awards Berlin, a global competition sponsored by WeWork. Nonprofits can win between $18,000 and $130,000.

Little Sun cofounders Frederik Ottesen and Olafur Eliasson with their solar-powered lamp.

By winning at the Creator Awards Berlin, the Little Sun Foundation hopes to distribute solar lamps to 5,000 students and 200 teachers in rural Rwanda. The foundation, based in Berlin, also hopes to raise fund and increase awareness about the need for electricity in developing countries. “We’re interested in implementing technology into a system of communication and engagement,” says director Felix Hallwachs.

Another nonprofit helping kids around the world is Berlin’s ShareTheMeal. Launched with the United Nations World Food Program three years ago, the mobile app fights global hunger by making donating extremely easy. With a simple tap on a smartphone, users can feed one child in need for just 50 cents a day.

“We thought leveraging mobile technology would be a good way to engage millennials, a group that has a heavy smartphone usage,” says Massimiliano Costa, head of ShareTheMeal. He says it’s the “most efficient, innovative, and thought-through fundraising tool to engage millennials in the fight against hunger.”

Kids in Lebanon enjoy some food sponsored by ShareTheMeal.

A win at the Creator Awards would help roll out a new product called The Table, which enables monthly givers to monitor their donations and connect with a family they’re helping through regular updates on the app.

Learning firsthand about the shortcomings of Germany’s education system was what sparked Anna Meister to start ZuBaKa, a program to help refugee children in Frankfurt. The name of the program is a contraction of the German word Zukunftsbaukasten, which roughly translates as “tool box for the future.”

Frankfurt students play in a class led by ZuBaKa.

Having worked with the nonprofit Teach First Deutschland before founding ZuBaKa two years ago, Meister was determined to design a new curriculum that would help young people adjust to school and life in a new country. “We support newcomers between the ages of 10 and 21 by offering customized integration classes at local schools and institutions,” she says.

Meister’s goal is to expand the program beyond the six schools where it is currently based. “It is time for us to get started with our first stage of scaling,” she says. “This is what the Creator Awards would make possible.”

How you drink your morning cup of coffee could one day have a big impact on the world.

Kaffeeform is an eco-friendly replacement for the millions of single-use coffee cups that go into landfills every day. On Nov. 15 the company is competing at WeWork’s Creator Awards Berlin, the latest in a series of global competitions featuring innovative nonprofit organizations and business ventures that are vying for up to $360,000.

Founder and Berlin-based designer Julian Lechner first had the idea for it eight years ago. “It was an idle thought at first,” he says. “What happens to all those spent coffee grounds?”

The grounds are just thrown away, along with all those cups. Lechner began experimenting with coffee waste collected from local cafés until he hit on the perfect combination of coffee grounds and biopolymers, a biodegradable, lightweight, machine washable, and durable material derived from living organisms. “It’s similar to vinyl to touch but with the scent of coffee,” he says.

Berlin-based designer Julian Lechner says he first had the idea for Kaffeeform eight years ago.

The new material can be injection molded to create coffee cups. Kaffeeform currently offers four different types of cups and is preparing to add more products to its list, such as skateboards and sunglasses.

A win at the awards would cap an extraordinary year for Kaffeeform, which recently won the Red Dot Award 2018 for creating a product that “sets an important example for the future.” Lechner’s team is now looking for ways to supply enough cups to meet the ever-growing demand in Germany. “We’re selling them as fast as we can make them, especially the reusable to-go cup,” he says. “Creator Awards funding would allow us to put the right structures in place to get ahead of demand and grow the business sustainably.”

Entrepreneurs look beyond profits

The threat posed by single-use plastics played a role in the genesis of another of the finalists at the Creator Awards. Plan A is the first crowdfunding platform that funnels funds directly to organizations in areas hit hardest by climate change,.

Lubomila Jordanova was determined to get involved in the fight against climate change.

“I’d been on holiday in North Africa and seen mountains of plastic waste being burned in the street,” explains founder Lubomila Jordanova. “I went home determined to get involved in the fight against climate change. I spent weeks plowing through hundreds of articles and still had no idea what I could usefully do. It’s no wonder so many people give up.”

Drawing on her background in finance, the native of Bulgaria realized the problem was one of perspective. “No one can solve climate change because it’s not one problem,” she says. “If we’re going to beat it, we need to do so by breaking it down into thousands of manageable tasks.”

Jordanova, who is based in Berlin, put a team together and spent the next year crunching vast amounts of climate data from around the world. When the platform goes live in a matter of weeks, she says it will be the first time individuals, nonprofits, and businesses will be able to work together on climate change. A win at the Creator Awards would mean more money for marketing and more people analyzing the data.

Amparo cofounder Lucas Paes de Melo (second from right) says the company started as a university project.

The category Lechner and Jordanova are competing in might be called Business Ventures, but all five finalists embody values that go beyond profit and loss. Prosthetics manufacturer Amparo is guided by a mission that is rooted in its origins as a university project, when a group of engineering and design students were looking at ways of helping amputees in the developing world. After two years of research and development, Amparo’s product—a thermoplastic socket that can be remolded as often as necessary, requires no special tools, and can be completed in under an hour at the patient’s home—went on sale in August.

“Traditional sockets have to be remade again and again from scratch as the residual limb changes size and shape, particularly when the amputation is recent, or the amputee is a child,” says cofounder Lucas Paes de Melo. “It’s expensive, time-consuming, and often requires multiple visits to a clinic.”

The socket has an innovative pricing model where people are charged according to their ability to pay. “We haven’t forgotten our original mission to help amputees in the developing world,” he says. Amparo, which means “support” in Portuguese, will dedicate a portion of any money it wins at the Creator Awards towards its dream project: making modern prosthetics accessible to everyone who needs them, regardless of means or geography, via a series of mobile clinics.

On the tip of their tongue

Liz Sauer Williamson’s company is a bit closer to home. Williamson, co-founder of Löwenzahn Organics, wants to improve what we feed our babies. The idea for her company came about when Williamson tasted some of the instant porridge she’d prepared for her infant daughter. It’s no coincidence that one of the company’s first products is a “non-instant” porridge.

Liz Sauer Williamson (right) started Löwenzahn Organics after tasting the porridge she was feeding her baby.

“You actually have to cook it for two minutes rather than simply adding water to rehydrate it,” says the Berlin-based entrepreneur. “The difference in taste is enormous.”

The philosophy behind Löwenzahn Organics is based on the idea that baby food should look and taste like real food. That way, children develop a healthy relationship with eating, and parents don’t spend the next 10 years cooking separate meals for kids and adults. A win at the Creator Awards would mean more money to spend on adding new products to its line of baby foods.

Like the other finalists at the Creator Awards,  David Montiel was inspired by Berlin’s dynamic and inclusive startup scene. Drawn to the city by the prospect of work as a programmer, the native of Mexico wanted to conquer the language as quickly as possible. “I listened to audiobooks on my commute every day and got frustrated having to constantly pause, guess the spelling of each new word, and then look it up in a dictionary,” he says.

David Montiel of Beelinguapp was inspired by Berlin’s dynamic and inclusive startup scene.

Montiel built an app called Beelinguapp that displays text in two languages and offers simultaneous audio, visualized with the bouncing ball familiar to karaoke aficionados. Launched in January 2017, Beelinguapp has attracted 1.5 million users and named one of the top language learning apps Google Play. “That recognition was the assurance I needed to finally leave my day job and commit to Beelinguapp full time,” he says.

Winning a Creator Award would allow him to invest in new features like a bilingual news service. As they prepare for their 60-second pitch at the Creator Awards Berlin, the other finalists echoed the same thought: that a win would enable them to take their business to the next level. And maybe, in the process, change the world.