How these founders won over $1 million for their startups

The last thing Chloe Alpert did before going on stage to compete in the WeWork Creator Global Finals, which took place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 9, was set her Apple Watch to airplane mode. She didn’t want to feel the constant buzzes of the device’s notifications. “I call it my shock collar,” she says.

Just 11 months ago, Alpert and her three co-founders launched Medinas Health, a resale marketplace for medical equipment and technology. Now, her wrist silent, Alpert pitched Medinas to Creator judges Ashton Kutcher, rapper and entrepreneur Sean Combs, entrepreneur and chairman of VaynerX Gary Vaynerchuk, and Forerunner Ventures founder Kirsten Green—and won the top prize of $1 million. Only after the win did she switch off airplane mode—and her wrist blew up not with work reminders, but with congratulations from her team and their customers.

“The team makes a business,” Alpert says, basking in the afterglow of her win and the opportunity to share it with the people who’ve believed in her and Medinas. “My co-founders and my team, they’re the reason I get up in the morning.”

“I was like, I know my business. I know this opportunity. I’ve done the work—and when you’ve done the work, it’s easy,” says Chloe Alpert of Medinas Health.

Alpert credits their intensive prelaunch research-and-development phase with helping her impress the judges during the Q&A portion of the event. They needed to determine how much money hospitals lose by getting rid of old but still functional equipment instead of reselling it to smaller institutions. “I couldn’t find a study, because it just doesn’t exist,” she says. “We had to spend a year doing our own study, walking into hospitals, calling customers, reading clinical engineering books, and being like, ‘What the hell is going on?’”

So when Vaynerchuk, whom Alpert calls “a marketing god,” was quizzing her about her company’s trajectory, she felt prepared. “I was like, I know my business. I know this opportunity,” she says. “I’ve done the work—and when you’ve done the work, it’s easy.”

Fine-tuning a vision

For Rachel Corson and Jocelyn Mate, the co-founders of Afrocenchix, a line of affordable, all-natural hair-care products for black and mixed-race hair, preparing for the awards was an opportunity to refine their mission and plan for the future if they won. “We spent quite a bit of time talking through our five-year plan,” Corson says. “What are the steps to get there, and how we can help more people? How we can impact our community and have a global impact? We just wrote notes and turned it into a pitch.”

Their planning clearly impressed the judges, who awarded Afrocenchix the second-runner-up prize of $180,000. Corson and Mate were particularly grateful for the opportunity because African-American women receive less than 0.2 percent of venture capital—and it’s even less in their native UK.

“Having the triple barriers of prejudice of being young, black, and female, it’s been really difficult to raise money,” Corson says. “Going through the WeWork Creator process has been fantastic. And the prize means we get to retain control over our company. We’re not forced to say, ‘Do we keep our values or do we take money?’ We can do both.”

Angel House founder Kate Wang says having a long-term vision has helped her organization survive frequent moves over the past 17 years. Now it will have a home of its own.

Angel House, a Shanghai-based organization that supports children with cerebral palsy, won the Nonprofit category prize of $250,000 by audience vote. Founder Kate Wang says that having a long-term vision has helped it survive having to move multiple times over its 17-year history. With the prize money, the organization will finally have a home of its own.

We’re thankful for WeWork’s generosity,” she says. “WeWork is an amazing company that has provided us with an opportunity to help us achieve our dreams.”

Starting from a place of passion

As important as understanding your market is, Tomás Abrahão, founder of Raízs—a platform that connects Brazilian consumers with organic farmers to make it easier for them to access local produce—cautions future contestants not to get too wrapped up in details at the expense of losing your sense of personal urgency and mission. In preparing his pitch to the Creator judges, he said that he talked to his girlfriend and created a list of must-pitch facts.

“We didn’t want it to be something rote, so I just knew bullet points, and then was talking from the heart,” say Abrahão, whose company took the first-runner-up prize of $360,000. “I think we just figured out how to transmit with passion—and hand gestures,” he explains, joking about his full-body presentation style.

Abrahão advises anyone pitching their company to investors to maintain a balance. “Of course, it’s business, but it has to be some passion, some need that you have, that you see in the world. That’s what you have to connect,” he says. “Business is the way that it comes, but you end up winning because of your heart.”

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