Founders from a first-generation college initiative, a musically remixed math program, and a tech product for sexual assault walk into a room. No, this isn’t a lead-in to a joke, it’s the three ideas that took to the stage and collectively brought home $108k during WeWork’s Creator Awards on June 27th.
After hitting a tour circuit to talk about their massive money giveaway, the globetrotting co-working space, WeWork, (which has two locations in Atlanta) held a happy hour to promote their upcoming opportunity in Austin. The premise was simple: submit a 90-second video about your organization and why you should have the chance to take the stage in Austin. Out of the 2k+ applicants, only a handful from each category made the cut – three hailing from the Peach State.
With nothing but their Atlanta pride and luggage strapped to their backs, founders from Leap Year, Make Music Count, and GoSafely headed to Texas. And while Austin prides itself on “keeping it weird,” they know how to spit southern hospitality too.
“I don’t think I’ve met a nicer group of people than the staff at WeWork,” Marcus Blackwell, the founder of Make Music Count, kicked off our interview. “I was by myself but when I showed up, I felt like I was at a family reunion. I felt right at home.”
Amber Scott, the founder of Leap Year and AnnMarie Stockinger, the founder of GoSafely were quick to mirror Marcus’ sentiments adding that the WeWork team and competitors swapped everything from hugs to business cards and resources.
“This isn’t the normal day-to-day experience as a woman in tech,” explained AnnMarie. “To go to the Creator Awards where there were so many women in the room and to realize what an asset we are is so cool to me. We were all competing against each other but we would all say good luck to each other or ask how we can help one another. I’ve never been in a competitive environment that friendly before.”
As Incubator finalists, Amber and Annmarie didn’t end up having to pitch but had no idea when they landed in Austin they were both going to win $18k. “I was scared because they told us we weren’t pitching,” explained Amber. “We were relieved because we didn’t have to pitch in front of all these people but also felt like we didn’t have control over the process. It was nerve-wracking in that sense but it was great to come home with this amazing amount of money and being out there with everybody.”
“We’re excited because at Leap Year we can do more trips with our students, have more speakers come in, visit more colleges, and we’ll also be able to use this to build up for next year as we are looking to expand our programming. Hopefully, we’ll be hiring our first employee soon so it’s all helping us as we grow inch by inch.”
Like Leap Year, AnnMarie is also hoping to expand GoSafely but through patents and beta testing their technology. “Anytime you are doing hardware and software, IP becomes a really tricky business. For us, the money will be a split between doing the pilot and the patents. We are about to start raising some more money so we can do the rest of the R&D and manufacturing necessary to do a larger scale pilot next year of 500 to 1000 units.”
As one of the winners of the Launch stage, Marcus pitched Make Music Count and won out big with a $72,000 grant. “I’m very excited about winning because we are at a stage now where we are adding on a tech-ed piece to the business. The in-class experience we offer with pianos, workbooks, and all the fun, will be captured and put on tablets and reach more kids. This money is going to allow us to really move to the next level.”
The Creator Awards may have come to a close but Leap Year, GoSafely, and Make Music Count will feel the impact of leveraging the money they won. Not to mention the memories and connections that will last a lifetime.
“For WeWork to do this in some many cities during their first year, I feel like 5-10 years from now, this will be one of those programs on the same level as Y Combinator, AnnMarie proclaimed. “There was a real effort they are making to find people who are doing passion projects. It wasn’t about the coolest, technically advanced thing. It was awarded on how passionate people are about what they’re doing.”
“There were so many fantastic ideas,” Marcus chimed in. “I was like, “Man, I haven’t heard a bad idea yet!” Everyone was so happy to meet other entrepreneurs which is why I really wanted to go. I wanted to meet others who are fighting the good fight. Taking the leap on an idea. We are all out here trying to help the next generation thrive, so it was wonderful to meet other people doing great work.”
Headline image is courtesy of Moyo3k – check out his amazing work here. All other photos are property of their respective organizations.