Founders find their tribe at first-ever Creator Camp

This past weekend, 28 entrepreneurs came together in Washington, D.C. for the first-ever WeWork Creator Camp, which one participant called “the most intense, most rewarding accelerator program you could imagine.” For three fast-paced days, the cohort—comprised of Creator Awards winners from Austin, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. competitions—learned how to develop a stronger brand voice, pitch their great ideas in front of investors, and stand out in a competitive marketplace.

“You’ve got to be passionate about your startup,” Jeff Sheely, cofounder of the flower delivery service UrbanStems, told participants. “This is something you’re going to be talking about a lot for a very long time.” (Editor’s note: Learn more about the experts who coached the finalists.)

Sheely was one of the many business experts on hand to mentor and advise more than two dozen regional winners at the Creator Awards, a worldwide competition sponsored by WeWork.  These winners—from the Austin, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. competitions—are all set to compete in the Creator Awards Finals, which will be held in in New York City in early 2018.

The stakes are high, as the winners are eligible for the grand prize of more than $1 million given out at the Finals. Creator Camp is designed to prepare them for the competition, as well as for real-world events like pitching to potential investors.

Announced earlier this year by WeWork founder Adam Neumann, the Creator Awards are a global initiative to “recognize and reward the creators of the world.” Over the course of the year, WeWork is giving out more than $20 million at a series of events taking place in cities spanning the globe.

Winners on the regional level said that the experience has already transformed their companies. Keisha Whaley, founder of a Dallas-based ad agency called Brass Tacks Collective, said the $72,000 she won in the Austin regional event has allowed her company to expand in ways she hadn’t expected.

“The money allowed us to expand in ways that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise,” Whaley said.

On Friday, finalists arrived at D.C.’s WeLive Crystal City. The following morning, after an early morning yoga class, the group shuttled across the Potomac River for a jam-packed day of workshops at WeWork White House, with expansive windows overlooking the nearby executive mansion.

The first session featured Sheely, who discussed the importance of a strong brand voice. He explained that when his business partner Ajay Koriand was involved in a long-distance romance, he was unsatisfied with the quality of flower delivery. They decided to rethink the process.

At another session, Hafezi Capital CEO Babak Hafezi focused on how strategic business planning can help a company scale in a crowded field.

“You must be able to tell your story,” he said. “There are people out there who have money and want to support you on your mission and make an impact.”

Meal times were also an opportunity to learn. Prominent D.C. restaurateur and owner of Cava Brett Schulman discussed challenges like team building with Kley Sippel, WeWork’s community director in D.C.

After lunch, the group hopped on a bus to Improv DC to test their ad-lib skills and creativity. For starters, they formed a large circle and assigned themselves alliterative nicknames and signature movements. (Example: Greg Jumes of Victor App became Good Greg, and his movement was lunging forward.)

The event was capped off by pitches to a panel of judges, testing how much they’d grown after the whirlwind of storytelling workshops. Each participant had a distinct style. Grace Hsia of Warmilu was full of energy as she explained the inspiration that led her to create warming blankets for premature babies.

Kevin White of the nonprofit Global Vision 2020 was cool and collected, impressing the crowd with his passion for providing affordable eyeglasses to children in developing nations. Jay Newton-Small, telling how her grandfather’s dementia had inspired her to launch Memory Well, brought an emotional component to the afternoon.

There’s one more Creator Camp scheduled for 2017, taking place on December 2 and 3 for winners from the Creator Awards in London, Berlin, Tel Aviv, and New York.

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