Austin entrepreneur Robert Olivier says that getting this far hasn’t been easy.
“I literally couch surfed, and even spent a few nights sleeping in my car,” says Olivier. “But it was worth it, because it got me to the place that I am now.”
That place was on the stage of Austin’s ACL Live at the Moody Theater, where he accepted the grand prize at the Creator Awards. Olivier says he was “amazed and humbled at the same time” to win $360,000 for Grub Tubs, the company he helped to found.
Grub Tubs, a pioneer of the growing “table to farm” movement, transforms restaurant leftovers into animal feed. Like most of the 18 winners at the event, Grub Tubs isn’t just about making a profit. It’s about making a difference in the world.
Sponsored by WeWork, the Creator Awards gave out nearly $1.5 million at the event in Austin. Over the course of a year, WeWork will be giving out more than $20 million in cities spanning the globe. Coming up next are events in London and Mexico City.
Olivier says he knows exactly what his company is going to do with the money from the Creator Awards. In fact, he announced it from the stage seconds after receiving his award.
“Grub Tubs needs a rock star female CEO to disrupt the waste industry in this town,” he said as the audience rose to its feet. “So we are taking applications. Send your resume.”
It wasn’t the only job announcement made at the Creator Awards. Among the three winners, all said that their grants would be going to fund new positions.
Samantha Snabes, co-founder of re:3D, took home a prize of $180,000. Her company, based in Austin and Houston, is designing an industrial 3D printer that uses recycled plastic.
“We’re planning on bringing a materials scientist onto our team,” said Snabes. “So if you’re out there, we’re hiring.”
Also winning $180,000 was Abianne Falla, co-founder of the Austin-based CatSpring Yaupon. Her company, which makes a beverage from a local plant, is putting out a call for new employees.
“This award is going to make a difference almost immediately,” she said. “By this time next week we’re going to have more harvesters on the job.”
Her company’s commitment to hiring people who have difficulty finding jobs, such as those who’ve been through the prison system, seems to reflect WeWork founder Miguel McKelvey’s feeling that the awards are “something much bigger than just yourself.”
There were two special awards given out the same evening. The first went to Ruthie Lindsey, the well-known designer, stylist, and public speaker who inspired the standing-room-only crowd with her story of regaining her life after a devastating accident. She spoke at a master class alongside her close friend, actor and activist Sophia Bush.
The other award went to Texas native Matt Glazer, executive director of the Austin Young Chamber of Commerce. The WeWork University Park member won praise for his “vision of cultivating a community that serves, connects, inspires, and supports one another.”
“Matt is a connector,” says WeWork’s Sarah Imparato. “He’s launched companies, grown organizations, but mostly, Matt creates a space for professionals and individuals to be heard and developed.”
There were three categories of Creator Awards, including the Scale Award for more established operations aiming to get to the next level and the Launch Award for young businesses and organizations that need a little help getting off the ground. The third category is the Incubate Award, for great ideas or specific projects that need funding.
After a lightning round in which the Launch Award finalists pitched their companies in a minute or less, the judges picked who would take home $72,000: Keisha Whaley of the Brass Tacks Collective and Jennifer Ding of ParkIT (both based in Dallas), Deven Hariyani of Austin’s Kwaddle, and Marcus Blackwell Jr. of Atlanta’s Make Music Count.
The big winner in the category was Brothers Empowered to Teach Initiative, which was represented by founder Larry Irvin. When it was announced that the New Orleans-based nonprofit won $130,000, Irvin was greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 2,750 people.
The 10 winners in the Incubate category — all of whom took home $18,000 for their organizations —include including Beth Taylor of Hand Made By Beth, Barrie Schwartz of My House Social, Shaughn Thomas of the Invest In Yourself Foundation, Murphy Anne Carter of Freehand Arts Project, Lauren Calderera of TXRX Labs, Piper LeMoine of Rancho Alegre Radio, Roberto Rivera of Successful Smiles of Texas, Chris Brown of Venture Legal, Annemarie Stockinger of GoSafely, and Amber Scott of The Leap Year.
Scott said that her award would allow her company, which helps high school graduates from underprivileged communities prepare for college, hire its first employee.
“We’re going to use the prize money to begin to build out our team,” she said. “We’ll be able to hire our first part-time employee this summer.”
Brown, who is launching a software called Contract Canvas that offers a simple and straightforward way for freelancers to draw up legal agreements, is also planning on bringing on more staff.
“I want to hire a few additional people to build it out,” he said. “ We’ve done our initial testing of the software, and most people have told me that they’re excited about it. But to really see if it works nationwide, we need to build it out.”
Out of hundreds of applicants, judges were able to pick between 10 to 14 finalists for each category. The winners in the Launch and Scale categories will be able to compete in the grand finale in New York.
Photo by Getty Images for WeWork