On January 9, coworking giant WeWork gave out its second Creator Awards. The Creator Awards are designed to recognize exceptional vision and innovation in three categories: Performing Arts, Nonprofit, and Business Venture.
After 5 business finalists made their pitches, the judges chose to award Chloe Alpert and her company, Medinas Health, a cool $1 million, while an audience vote gave the nonprofit prize to Chinese entrepreneur Wang Feng and her charity, Angel House Cerebral Palsy.
However, each finalist was a superstar. So what matters for us isn't so much who won as the common thread that unites all 8 extraordinary enterprises. See if you can spot the shared trait at the heart of each venture:
Joycelyn Mate and Rachael Corson, Afrocenchix--A company offering safe, natural hair care products for African-American women.
Chloe Alpert, Medinas Health--An online platform that helps healthcare organizations with surplus medical equipment and supplies connect and trade with smaller clinics and hospitals that need those supplies.
Jiliang Ma, Modoo--This company makes a miniature device that mothers can use to monitor the health of their unborn babies.
Stephanie Benedetto, Queen of Raw--A marketplace that keeps unused textiles out of landfills by enabling producers to sell them to manufacturers.
Tomas Abrahao, Raizs--Another online marketplace, this one designed to connect organic farmers with the consumers who want to buy their crops.
Yoni Yefetreich, Amutat Kaima--A nonprofit that works with youth who have dropped out of school to help them learn the business and craft of farming.
Kate Wang, Angel House--A charity serving people with cerebral palsy.
Cemal Ezel, Change Please--A nonprofit that trains homeless people to work in the hospitality industry and helps set them up with services like bank accounts.
Okay, notice a pattern? I won't keep you in suspense any longer: every one of those organizations is centered around helping and caring.
Now, you could say that about most young companies in theory, but in practice a lot of startups focus everything on their gee-whiz technology: "Download our awesome app!" But each of these eight had made helping people or the environment the heart of what they're doing. That may be why WeWork chose them.
Actually, I already used the key word: heart. These companies care about their mission and they're not afraid to lean into that, because it's personal. Sure, they want to be profitable (or, for the nonprofits, sustainable and healthy), but nobody gets into these 8 sectors because they want to get rich. They do it because the work means something deeper to them.
That's where I'd like to see your entrepreneurial energies go in 2019, if they're not already there. In my work, heart-centric leaders are the ones with the most loyal followers, the best brands, and the most dedicated, evangelical customers. Why? Because we want people to care, sincerely, perhaps today more than ever. Here are a few ways you can weave that impulse to care and help into your own entrepreneurial ventures:
Focus on people, not tools.
Apps and software are super-cool, but they exist to make our lives better. They're not the end, but the means to an end. Make that the core of what you say and do.
Tell stories in your branding.
Nobody cares about your features and benefits. They do care about how your product or service is making a difference in people's lives.
Don't be afraid to pivot.
If a venture isn't working, ask yourself if it's because your focus is all on the assets and not making things better. If that's the case, maybe it's time to revamp your mission or your entire company and find a way to be a source of light and inspiration in the world.
Get going, and maybe in 2020 you can be a WeWork finalist.