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

 

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.

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.”