“How many New Yorkers do we have here tonight?” Georges Clement of Justfix.NYC said from the stage at the New York City Creator Awards as the crowd cheered wildly. “And how many of you have had a terrible landlord?” he asked, eliciting an even more thunderous response.
Raised in Morningside Heights in Manhattan, Clement worked his home-court advantage Thursday night as he made the case for Justfix.NYC, a free service which helps low-income residents file claims against landlords when facing issues such as mold or infestations in their homes. His appeal won over the crowd and, more lucratively, the judges, who awarded him $180,000.
“Five months ago, our bank account was at zero,” Clement said. It’s been a pretty good week for the 27-year-old entrepreneur, including making the cut into Forbes’ Law and Policy 30 Under 30 and meeting fellow Creator Awards winner LeVar Burton. “Now, we’ve reached an inflection point. Now people have bought in to our vision.”
Clement and 23 other creators took home more than $1.5 million at the seventh regional Creator Awards event.
The event was a homecoming of sorts for the Creator Awards. The global competition—which started this year when New York City-based WeWork committed more than $20 million to fund innovative projects around the world—will culminate in a Global Finals in January 2018, also happening in New York City. Innovators of all kinds competed at three levels: Incubate, Launch, and Scale, with prizes ranging from $18,000 up to $360,000. Host Adi Neumann pointed out that this breaks down to more than $50,000 a minute.
“Tonight’s a very special night,” WeWork cofounder Miguel McKelvey said at the start of the ceremony. “We’re here at home where we started. The Creator Awards has connected us to incredible communities. Bringing this community together was something we’d dreamed about, but now we get to feel it in real life.” (Watch McKelvey’s whole speech about #IRL dreams at the 10:15 mark in the livestream below.)
To make the night even more special, McKelvey and the other Scale judges decided to hand out two more $180,000 prizes to finalists than they had originally planned. The big winner of $360,000 in that category, Karim Abouelnaga of Practice Makes Perfect, is also a native New Yorker solving a very local problem.
Behind the scenes, Abouelnaga and Clement had been cheering each other on, as they’re both part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers New York group. While Clement tackles housing, Abouelnaga focuses on education by bringing near-peer summer tutoring to underserved schools. For example, his very first summer program had ninth graders teaching fourth graders. The younger kids got lessons to keep them from falling further behind; the older kids got great summer jobs.
“I was the first person in my family to go to college,” Abouelnaga said in his 45-second pitch. “And I left a career in investment banking to make sure I wasn’t the last.”
Last summer, Practice Makes Perfect brought summer learning to 31 schools in New York, and in 2018, they’ll push it up to 50.
“With this money, I’ll experiment with cutting our price point to schools this year to saturate the market more this year and reach more kids,” he said.
The full house of 2,500 who gathered at Skylight Clarkson Square in New York’s SoHo neighborhood wore their creativity on their sleeves, sometimes quite literally. Incubate category winner Laurén Bienvenue could be seen weaving through the party in her signature hand-painted leather jacket adorned with palm leaves. At the Creator Market, Denimrush was doing live drip painting on denim jackets.
Many of the artists represented had women founders or women-driven missions, as did many of the finalists who spoke on stage. Karen Young, founder of women-focused shaving brand Oui Shave and now a winner of $180,000, said the vision of the Creator Awards spoke to her.
“The Creator Awards is the first funding medium that just asks, ‘What are you passionate about?’” she said. “Many times, women are creating products for an audience they know intimately. But quite often if you’re talking to male investors, that’s not something they really understand immediately.”
After the awards ceremony, the dance floor filled up, matched in enthusiasm only by the line for New York-style hot dogs. Just before 11 p.m., the music stopped abruptly for a few moments, giving just enough time to let the shock of T-Pain standing at the DJ booth sink in—and for the cell phones to come out—before he launched into his hit “Bartender.” T-Pain announced that his new album was dropping at midnight, but he’d still stick to the hits for his surprise appearance. The crowd tightened up and unified for the moment. It was just another inspired night in the best city on earth.
Winners of the 2017 New York Creator Awards
JustFix.NYC (nonprofit) – $180,000
Girls Health Champions (nonprofit) – $72,000
Inclusion (nonprofit) – $72,000
Integrated Medical Sensors (for profit) – $72,000
Seeds of Collaboration (for profit) – $72,000
Adisa (for profit) – $18,000
ATOMIC by Design (for profit) – $18,000
Blossom-Project (nonprofit) – $18,000
Cave Theatre Co. (artist) – $18,000
Dialogue Theory (artist) – $18,000
Discover Outdoors Foundation (nonprofit) – $18,000
Girls on the Run NYC (nonprofit) – $18,000
Jae Jin Music (artist) – $18,000
Langston League (for profit) – $18,000
Once Upon A Laurén (artist) – $18,000
Purpose Driven Passports (nonprofit) – $18,000
Community Giver award
ShareBite: Dilip Rao, Mohsin Mehmon, and Jason Ayala