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WeWork Hands Out $1.5M To Small Businesses At Global Creator Awards Launch In DC

WeWork's former CEO, Adam Neumann, taking a tequila shot on stage with Creator Awards winners in 2017.

Tequila shots were in order at the end of WeWork's Creator Awards launch in DC Tuesday night, after the company handed out $1.5M in grants to small businesses. 

Hundreds were in attendance at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue for the event, which served as the global launch of a yearlong initiative to award $20M to entrepreneurs. 

The awards were split into three categories. The incubate awards were given to startups in the early phases that need help bringing their idea to life. The launch awards were given to companies at the next critical phase that have brought their products to market but need help growing. The scale awards were given to larger companies that have launched and grown but need help taking their ideas to the next level. 

Each of the finalists in the launch and scale categories presented 60-second pitches to the audience, and the scale category finalists were also questioned by judges for three minutes each. The night's big winner was Byte Back, a DC-based nonprofit that provides computer training and career services to underserved DC-area residents. Byte Back received a $360K grant as the winner of the scale award. 

"This award will help Byte Back with tech training and support, and we will be able to reach so many more people in our region as well as look to a national expansion,” executive director Elizabeth Lindsey said.

The runner-ups in the scale category, which each won $180K, were Silver Spring-based Mercaris and San Francisco-based Global Press Institute. 

The winner of the launch category and recipient of a $130K grant was MemoryWell. The company was started by former journalists to help caregivers to better understand Alzheimer's and dementia patients by chronicling the stories of each patient.

The runner-ups in the launch category, each receiving $72K, were Quaker City Coffee Co., Together We Bake, Global Vision 2020 and Coral Vita. WeWork handed out incubate awards to 17 different companies, each of which received $36K.

Former WeWork CEO Adam Neumann at the Creator Awards launch in D.C. in 2017

The awards given out Tuesday night were all grants with no equity attached, but WeWork CEO Adam Neumann said portions of the total $20M WeWork awards will be investments for equity in the company. 

"There are a lot of investments happening in Silicon Valley and around the world, but most of us don’t know how to get access to them," Neumann said. "At the end of the day, if you’re not in a certain place at a certain time it’s very hard to raise money.

"This is why at WeWork we decided not only do we want to share money, we want to do it in such a meaningful way that brings people up, that elevates people," he said. "That’s what the Creators Awards are about."  

Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Brian Kenner spoke before Neumann. He talked about DC's major presence at SXSW, which many of the entrepreneurs in the audience attended, and he thanked WeWork for choosing DC to launch its initiative.

"Seeing all of this energy lets me know that DC is the right place to be the heartbeat of innovation," Kenner said.