“People told me my idea was impossible for years,” says Oliver Percovich. The founder of Skateistan just wanted to provide children in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and other impoverished countries with schools and skate parks.
Where others saw “impossible,” the Creator Awards saw “scalable.” At the Berlin edition of the Creator Awards, an ongoing series of events that promote forward-thinking business around the world, the judges were fascinated by his organization, awarding the entrepreneur with the evening’s top prize.
Sponsored by WeWork, the Creator Awards will give out $20 million in its first year. Regional events have already taken place in Tel Aviv, Berlin, London, Austin, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. The next event will be on Nov. 16 in New York City.
The top winners from each region will come together to compete at the Global Creator Awards in January.
The Creator Awards aren’t like any other competition. Artists pitch their passion projects, whether it’s a hip-hop album or a theater group for women in prison. Educators bring in ideas about teaching children math through music or empowering girls by teaching them how to code. And entrepreneurs run the gamut—sharing the stage with an engineer who created a blanket to warm premature babies might be a veteran who is helping others like him make the transition back to civilian life.
For many companies, winning at the Creator Awards is the first time their company has secured any outside funding. And, according to WeWork Co-founder Miguel McKelvey, that’s the point.
“The Creator Awards are about trying to uncover people who don’t fit into the traditional systems of funding,” says McKelvey. “It’s OK to not be the next Facebook. What really counts is doing something that you care about.”
Last March marked the first-ever Creator Awards, held in a neoclassical building between the White House and the Capitol. The more than 1,300 people in the crowd cheered as women took home all of the top prizes.
Adam Neumann, co-founder of WeWork, told the crowd that he intended the awards to help fund the types of entrepreneurs that aren’t usually recognized.
“Chase your passion, chase your truth, and everything else will work out,” he says.
Since then, the Creator Awards have attracted more than 10,000 attendees. That doesn’t count the people who turned out for events held during the Creator Awards, such as the master classes with well-known innovators like speaker and philanthropist Sophia Bush and Grammy Award-winning performer Estelle. Hundreds more turned out in each city to browse among the vendors at the Creator Market or talk with business owners at the job fair, which both take place before the awards ceremony.
The Creator Awards are open to everyone, whether or not they are members of WeWork. Neumann emphasizes that “anyone who brings a new idea into the world, pursues their passion, and believes in something greater than oneself, is a creator.”
There are three categories of Creator Awards, including the Incubate Award for great ideas or specific projects that need funding and the Launch Award for young businesses and organizations that need a little help getting off the ground. The third, the Scale Award, is for more established operations aiming to get to the next level.
Winners said that the Creator Awards would help them scale their business more quickly. Abianne Falla, cofounder of the Austin-based CatSpring Yaupon, said her beverage company was would soon be putting out a call for new employees.
“This award is going to make a difference almost immediately,” Falla says. “By this time next week, we’re going to have more harvesters on the job.”
More than 170 jobs have been created by winners of the Creator Awards.
Jeremy Bond, founder of MURO, says his Creator Award proved to him that he was going in the right direction.
“This will have a big impact financially, but more importantly to me personally is the validation that comes with an award,” says Bond, whose London-based company makes a modular activity board for kids. “It’s a massive indicator that I’m doing something right.”