Standing side by side with the other winners at the Creator Awards, Kellee James felt that she was a part of something extraordinary.
“I’ve literally never seen that happen before,” said James, CEO of Mercaris, an agriculture startup. “It used to be that the only time women were part of a pitch competition was when it was geared toward women. They certainly didn’t take home the top prizes, like they did at the Creator Awards.”
James was one of three women who took home the largest prizes at the Creator Awards last week in Washington, D.C. WeWork gave out the awards, which totaled more than $1.5 million.
Over the course of a year, WeWork will be giving out more than $20 million at a series of events in cities spanning the globe. Subsequent Creator Awards events will take place in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. The next one is scheduled for Detroit on May 25.
James said her win was especially significant because she had her first child last year.
“I’m the mother of an eight month old, which brought home to me that one of the challenges is that women usually offer support for other people, not the ones being supported,” she said. “But there was a lot of support in that room.”
Jay Newton-Small, cofounder of the D.C.-based MemoryWell, said she’s thrilled by the outpouring of support for female founders. Newton-Small, whose startup tells the stories of people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, won the top prize in her category.
“There are more women executives in Washington than any city in America,” said Newton-Small.
The reason, according to Newton-Small, is that many nonprofit and social service organizations are located in the nation’s capital. Also, there are many federal agencies geared toward helping people that attract “women who like the idea of having a greater impact on the world.”
“The Creator Awards was a badass event,” said Arion Long, founder of Femly. “This was the first event like this where I wasn’t the only woman. When I saw that a lot of women got funding, I was thrilled. We don’t get those opportunities as often as our male counterparts.”
Long, whose Philadelphia-based company sends subscribers a monthly box of feminine health products, said that she often feels talked down to when she attends a meeting with potential funders.
“If I had a dime for every time someone didn’t invest in me because I was too young or I was a women, I would be a millionaire,” she said.
Cristi Hegranes, founder of Global Press Institute, said she considers the Creator Awards “a recognition of the future of innovation” and that the ideas of female founders need to become more mainstream.
Hegranes said even her D.C.-based nonprofit, which trains and employs women journalists around the world, still struggles to find funding.
“When I’m talking with investors, there are two questions I always get asked: why my organization only works with women, and whether or not I’m married,” she said. “A single 36-year-old male founder would never get asked that.”
Hegranes said she moved her organization from San Francisco because she prefers the more female-friendly atmosphere. “It’s increasingly clear that D.C. is the right place for us,” she said.
Layla Zaidane, chief operating officer of Millennial Action Project, which promotes cooperation between young people of different political backgrounds, said she was thrilled to see a diverse group of people competing for the awards.
“Having gender diversity, or any kind of diversity, is important in a startup,” she said. “You can’t grow or scale a company with just one kind of perspective.”
Photos by Lauren Kallen and Katelyn Perry