When New York City musicians Leon Lyazidi and Uliana Preotu formed their first rock band back in 2006, they weren’t looking for money or fame. They were purists, creating music for its own sake.
But once they were on the road, they quickly realized it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Audiences were sparse, critics were unforgiving, and it looked like they’d never get the attention of a record company. Their funds were running out.
“We had to take another look at ourselves and understand why people don’t like our music and why we’re not getting this opportunity or that opportunity,” says Preotu, a WeWork Chelsea member.
So they decided to completely start over. Since then, their band Cilver has signed a deal with an indie record label and seen their first single “I’m America” get plenty of coverage. After a lot of time in the studio, their new album Not the End of the World will debut April 29.
“Making this record was the hardest thing Leon and I ever had to do,” says Preotu. “We were prototyping Activatr while recording it in Chicago. Not losing the creative juices while doing so was the biggest challenge. We are extremely proud about how it turned out. It is the best music we’ve written so far.”
Throughout this process, Lyazidi and Preotu learned a thing or two about hiring the right people, connecting with their audience, and promoting themselves through social media. As they launched their new band, they also co-founded a marketing business called Activatr.
How does it work? Basically, companies get their current customers to promote them through their own social media networks.
“The business does a call to action to its consumers,” says Lyazidi, also a WeWork Chelsea member. “In exchange for a perk like a discount, free trial, or some sort of exclusive offer, consumers schedule content to push through their social media.”
The co-founders initially targeted musicians who needed help building a following and selling their merchandise. For example, they do all of the band’s marketing through Activatr. But they’ve expanded their client base to any type of business that would benefit from word-of-mouth advertising.
In case running a business isn’t enough, Preotu has been busy learning to code. Lyazidi is pursuing a master’s program at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
And, of course, they are both pursuing their music careers.
“When I started NYU in May, we were also editing our record at BMG Studios,” Lyazidi says. “So from 7 AM to 7 PM, I was in class wearing a suit and tie. Then I would roll up to the studio, take of my suit, and put on a T-shirt.”
They say their key takeaway from the whole experience is the importance of pulling together the right team and learning from their setbacks.
“This isn’t just a project,” Preotu says. “We feel strongly about it, which is why we decided to struggle financially and make a ton of mistakes. When we go all in, we go all in.”
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 foundCadus, 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’sCreator 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.”
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’sWeWork Stresemannstrasse 123, says he’s “never felt such support.”
In the nonprofit’s dedicatedworkshop 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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’sCreator 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.
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 recentlywon 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,.
“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.
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 manufacturerAmparo 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 ofLöwenzahn 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.
“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.
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.