With 60 seconds on the clock and a skateboard in his hand, Skateistan founder Oliver Percovich prepared to deliver his pitch at the Berlin Creator Awards Tuesday night (September 26). On the line was a top prize of $360,000.
“People told me my idea was impossible for years,” he said of his nonprofit, which provides children in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa with schools and skate parks. “For me, it made sense. I saw the smile on the kids’ faces.”
After his high-stakes pitch, a panel of judges asked why skateboarding appeals to kids in unstable countries. “It’s challenging,” he answered. “You fall down and have to get back up again. Afghanis know hardship.”
With his innovative approach to empowering the next generation of leaders, Percovich took home the top prize at the Creator Awards, the fifth one hosted by WeWork this year. For the Berlin edition, more than 1,100 gathered at Motorwerk Berlin, an engine factory turned club turned event space. Over the course of the evening, WeWork gave out more than $1 million to innovative projects and the creators behind them.
Speaking at the start of the night, WeWork cofounder Miguel McKelvey acknowledged how even embracing the title of “creator” can be hard for those working on their own projects that deviate from the typical idea of a startup.
“The Creator Awards are about trying to uncover people who don’t fit into the traditional systems of funding,” McKelvey said. “It’s OK to not be the next Facebook. What really counts is doing something that you care about.”
Before the ceremony, while the crowd noshed on Berlin bites like vegan curry wurst and locally brewed BRLO, many of the finalists—Percovich included—fought nerves as they got ready for the final pitches. For these entrepreneurs and artists, the prizes of $18,000 in the Incubate category, $72,000 to $130,000 in Launch, and $180,000 to $360,000 in Scale can make or break their ideas.
Matthias Heskamp of Radbahn said he and his team were on the brink of going back to their day jobs. “We almost couldn’t survive anymore,” he said. While the team of eight had received great media attention for their plan to turn the overpasses of Berlin’s elevated S-train into sheltered paths for bikes and pedestrians, they hadn’t yet secured sufficient funding to keep themselves afloat. Now, with the $72,000 Launch prize, they’ll be able to increase their focus on Radbahn, lobbying the local government and starting to unveil sections of the path.
The top winner in the Launch category, Sebastian Jünemann of Cadus, is also thrilled that his team will now be able to build and deploy a second mobile hospital to areas deemed too risky by other aid organizations. “Everyone said it wasn’t possible to put a mobile hospital two kilometers from the front lines in Mosul,” he said. “We showed them it is possible… and helped 300 people who would be dead now if we hadn’t been there.”
Among the excitement of the pitches and prizes, no one topped the enthusiasm of the Community Giver Award recipient Nicola Metzger. The Berlin crowd roared for the petite but exuberant WeWork Sony Center member as she bounced up to the stage to accept the $18,000 award, grinning ear to ear.
When all the money was handed out, it was time for a proper Berlin DJ set. Legendary Italian producer Giorgio Moroder threw on some of the disco classics he helped create, including the iconic “Love to Love You Baby.” The crowd stayed through to the last note at midnight, the dance floor strewn with confetti and business cards.
Looking ahead, Percovich said he knows exactly how he’s going to use the Creator Awards prize money. Skateistan gets messages from similar programs on a weekly basis.
“We’re contacted almost every week by copycat programs from around the world looking for support,” he said. “We see enormous potential in open sourcing all that we’ve learned in 10 years. This will give us the ability to have an impact on 100 countries and get closer to our goal of creating hundreds of thousands of leaders to change the world.”
Winners of the 2017 Berlin Creator Awards
Skateistan (nonprofit) – $360,000
Hexlox (for profit) – $180,000
Common Goal (nonprofit) – $180,000
Cadus (nonprofit) – $130,000
Radbahn (nonprofit) – $72,000
Sonic Geometry (artist) – $72,000
Citizen’s Mark (for profit) – $72,000
Institute for Sound & Music (nonprofit) – $72,000
12 Minutes Me (nonprofit) – $18,000
Atempo (for profit) – $18,000
Bikeee (for profit) – $18,000
Framen (for profit) – $18,000
Gusto Jobs (for profit) – $18,000
Plumage (artist) – $18,000
Pydro (for profit) – $18,000
Community Giver Award
For the Creator Awards, WeWork is committing more than $20 million to innovative projects and the people behind them. This global competition is now open for entrepreneurs, artists, startups, nonprofits—anyone who embodies our mantra, “Create your life’s work.” Apply today.