Edmonton Journal

Cana­dian cities find­ing new ways to be awe­some


A hand­ful of Cana­dian cities are get­ting a healthy dose of awe­some ev­ery month.

In Cal­gary, awe­some was hir­ing a sky­writer to write “Yes!” across the sky, while in Toronto, it was host­ing a card­board fort night with $1,000 worth of card­board re­frig­er­a­tor boxes and duct tape.

In Ot­tawa, old phone books will be ster­il­ized and in­oc­u­lated with mycelium, a part of a fun­gus, so they can pro­duce edible mush­rooms — a pretty awe­some way to re­cy­cle.

The Awe­some Foun­da­tion, cre­ated two years ago in Bos­ton, hands a brown pa­per bag stuffed with $1,000 cash to who­ever has the most amaz­ing idea of the month, ac­cord­ing to its founder, Tim Hwang.

“It’s a world­wide net­work of peo­ple de­voted to for­ward­ing the in­ter­est of awesomenes­s in the uni­verse. That’s the catch­phrase we use, but re­ally, it’s an al­liance of peo­ple who want to make re­ally in­ter­est­ing, fun things hap­pen,” he said.

Hwang and his co-founders had their eureka mo­ment af­ter their friends had a rough year of try­ing to get fund­ing for their small projects.

“They just came across this enor­mous bu­reau­cratic wall. It turns out that it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult to get $1,000. There are op­por­tu­ni­ties for $10,000 or $100,000, but if you want to do a small proj- ect, it’s tough to get the re­sources for it,” he said. “So we started this ca­sual thing of hear­ing ideas and giv­ing the best one a grant.”

By Au­gust 2009, Hwang and nine trustees each handed more than $100 to a pro­fes­sor who con­structed a 10-me­tre ham­mock so dozens of peo­ple could re­lax in the mid­dle of the city. It was the foun­da­tion’s first grant.

But the sim­plis­tic model of “a mi­cro-ge­nius grant for flashes of mi­cro-bril­liance” gained speed quickly.

There are now more than 20 chap­ters around the world, in­clud­ing Syd­ney, Aus­tralia; Ber­lin; Lon­don and Zurich and an­other in the works in Sri Lanka.

Canada’s in­au­gu­ral chap­ter opened in Ot­tawa by May 2010 af­ter a Bos­ton trustee, Emily Daniels, moved to the nation’s cap­i­tal. Through word of the mouth, lo­ca­tions popped up in Toronto, Cal­gary, Ed­mon­ton and Kitch­ener-Water­loo.

In Cal­gary, where five grants have been awarded so far, there are 13 trustees and the group holds pitch and party nights to choose their win­ners, spokesman Regi­nald Tiangha said, not­ing that the foun­da­tion faced some chal­lenges at first.

“When they started to see the types of ideas sub­mit­ted, they re­al­ized that an awe­some idea doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to ever make money and it just gets them think­ing about the sorts of awe­some things they can come up with.”

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