In Conversation with Junmian Sun
Since its inception in 2008, the Shorty Awards have evolved to become a beacon of innovation and creativity in the digital world, expanding beyond their original scope of short-form content by embracing a wide array of digital narratives and celebrating diverse forms of digital storytelling.
Junmian Sun, Managing Director at The Shorty Awards, has been instrumental in steering the Award’s evolution. “The name Shorty stands for short-form content, but it has since evolved into all formats” Sun explains, highlighting the inclusive nature of the awards today.
The Shorty Awards feature two main segments: the flagship Shorty Awards and the Shorty Impact Awards. The latter, as Sun describes, focuses on “recognizing purpose-driven work,” showcasing the industry’s commitment to socially responsible and impactful content.
A notable initiative under Sun’s guidance is the Elevate Creatives Fund in partnership with Wave, a one-stop money management platform for creative entrepreneurs. The Fund aims to support and empower creators and small business owners within the digital sphere.
The Shorty Awards 2023: Embracing Change and Innovation
Sun offers a compelling perspective on how the 2023 edition of the awards differed significantly from previous years, especially regarding themes and categories. “The digital social media landscape moves very fast,” Sun observes, “So one of the things we always do is look at the categories and add new ones based on the trends,” she explains.
Reflecting these shifts, the Shorty Awards introduced over 20 new categories in the past year, spanning both the traditional Shorty Awards and the Shorty Impact Awards. These new categories now include cutting-edge areas like generative AI, extended reality, gaming, and social commerce.
Additionally, there’s a focus on subcategories and industry verticals in videos and podcasts, indicating a nuanced understanding of the diverse ways digital content is consumed and created. “We also considered where the consumers and brands are shifting their attention to”, Sun concludes.
Elevating Creative Talent: The Core Criteria of the Elevate Creatives Fund
The Shorty Awards and Wave have taken a significant step forward in supporting creative entrepreneurship through the Elevate Creatives Fund. This initiative is not just about financial aid; it represents a deeper commitment to fostering originality, craftsmanship, and positive impact in the creator economy.
The inaugural year of the fund saw an overwhelming response, with over 500 applications. “By the time we narrowed it down to a shortlist and went from shortlist to the final, it was a really tough decision,” Sun recalls. The original plan to award $100,000 to five recipients evolved due to the high caliber of entries, leading to the decision to increase the fund to $120,000 and support six recipients, each receiving $20,000.
Recipients also gain access to invaluable resources, including “complimentary coaching from Wave’s bookkeeping and accounting advisors,” Sun describes. This comprehensive approach is aligned with the Shorty Awards’ mission of funding and empowering creators with the knowledge and skills necessary for success.
Moreover, the fund amplifies the visibility of its recipients. “We’ve been in contact with the creators to interview them to create a podcast or to write articles about them,” Sun says, highlighting the commitment to using the Shorty Awards platform to introduce these talented individuals to a broader audience.
Sun outlines the process and criteria involved in selecting the fund’s recipients: “The first criterion is the originality and creativity of the creative project or entrepreneurial endeavor that applicants are investing in,” she begins. This emphasis on originality and creativity is fundamental, ensuring that the fund supports projects that bring something genuinely new and innovative to the table.
The second criterion focuses on the “quality, craft, engagement, and effectiveness” of the work submitted by the applicants, highlighting the importance of not only creativity but also the execution and impact of their projects.
Another crucial aspect of the selection process is the demonstration of the applicant’s use of a creative platform “to influence and create a positive impact”, Sun explains. This criterion aligns with the Shorty Awards’ ethos of celebrating content that resonates with audiences and drives meaningful engagement. Furthermore, applicants must present clear plans for using the funds to accelerate their growth as creative entrepreneurs, underscoring the fund’s role in nurturing long-term success.
The Impact of the Elevate Creatives Fund
“Money is definitely a factor, especially for creative projects.” Sun says, “Recipients of the Fund can focus more on their creative endeavors than worrying about raising funds”, recognizing that many creative initiatives often hinge on tight budgets. One recipient perfectly illustrated this point, having mapped out a 2024 budget that coincided with the $20,000 grant.
“But almost equally important is the confidence, recognition and validation”, Sun continues, “A lot of our recipients and applicants have said that just having that external validation of their work, having the experts to give them the affirmation and the additional visibility, it’s invaluable.” This aspect of the fund offers creators much-needed reassurance about the quality and potential of their work.
An added value of the fund, as highlighted by Sun, is the opportunity for networking and community building. She recounts how four recipients attended the live event, which was more than a ceremonial gathering. “Being solopreneurs sometimes can be very lonely,” Sun reflects. This event offered a platform for recipients to connect, network, and draw inspiration from their peers, fostering a sense of community among like-minded creatives.
The Shorty Awards: Fostering Creative Entrepreneurship
Sun uses a Venn diagram analogy to describe the intersection of creativity and entrepreneurship. “The overlap of the circles is inspiration, perspiration and bias towards action,” she explains. This concept highlights the essence of creative entrepreneurship – it’s not just about having brilliant ideas but also about the relentless pursuit and execution of those ideas.
“I think the primary way we contribute to this community is really to amplify the work and push the boundaries for excellence,” Sun states, encapsulating the essence of the Shorty Awards’ impact.
The evolution of the participants’ work over the years is a testament to the Awards’ influence. Sun observes that many winners and nominees return year after year, showcasing a clear progression in their creative endeavors. This ongoing growth is fostered, in part, by the Awards’ judging process, which is conducted by a panel of industry experts – peers and mentors who provide unbiased, professional assessments. This evaluation by respected industry figures adds immense value, offering insights and validation from those at the forefront of the industry.
Furthermore, the Shorty Awards serve as a repository of creative excellence. “We publish almost all our participants’ work in our entry gallery, one of the largest public free archives of the best creative work over more than a decade,” Sun explains. This archive is not just a showcase but a resource, a tool for learning and inspiration, allowing creatives to study award-winning works dating back to 2010.
One of the key pieces of advice Sun offers to creators is the acceptance of initial imperfection. She refers to a social post that resonates with her perspective: ‘Your first podcast will be awful. Your first video will be awful… But you can’t make your 50th without the first, so just get over it and make it.
Sun cites the example of Mr. Beast to illustrate this point. “The first half of his career, he was among one of the millions of unknown YouTubers, it took about 5 years of consistent creating for him to reach the first tipping point that eventually led to where he is now,” she notes. This narrative exemplifies the essence of her advice – persistence and the courage to keep producing content, even if it’s not perfect.
The principle of continuous action and improvement is not limited to creative endeavors. Sun observes that it’s equally applicable in the broader context of entrepreneurship. She discusses the concept of serial entrepreneurs, “The reason there are serial entrepreneurs is not because they’re way better entrepreneurs than anyone else, but because they’ve been through it once,” she points out.
Junmian Sun’s Vision for the Elevate Creatives Fund
“My wildest dream is for the fund to continue to grow and become so self-sustainable by investing back into the creator economy,” she says, envisioning a future where the fund not only supports but also nourishes the creative sector.
Her vision encompasses more than just financial support; it’s about empowering the creative workforce to overcome the inherent barriers and risks of their profession. “We want to equip creators with skills, knowledge, community, and a network to succeed,” as Sun articulates. She also emphasizes the need for a “much larger and healthier middle class” within the creator economy, addressing the current disparity where only the top 1% seem to reap significant benefits.
Expanding on her plans for the fund, Sun expresses a desire to broaden its scope and reach. Both The Shorty Awards and Wave hope to attract more companies and organizations to support this initiative, whether under the Elevate Creatives Fund banner or through similar programs. “I would love to get more people to join us to expand the fund and have more people benefit from it,” Sun states, underscoring her commitment to inclusivity and growth.
Elevating the Shorty Awards Beyond Recognition
“I think the long-term vision for Shorty Awards is beyond awards,” Sun begins, setting the tone for an ambitious future. While central to their identity and success, the Awards are merely a starting point for a much larger mission. Sun sees the Shorty Awards as a crucial intermediary, bridging the gap between brands, agencies, and creators. “I want us to become a place where we connect the brands and agencies and the creators,” she explains.
Sun’s vision recognizes the ubiquitous nature of digital content consumption and its impact on everyday life. “Most of us consume some format of digital content pretty much every single minute,” she notes, “So how can we play a role in making this ecosystem better for everyone – creators, brands, and consumers is our long-term vision”.
Sun aims for the Shorty Awards to be a catalyst for improvement across the industry, setting higher standards and showcasing exemplary work. “We want to provide the resources and skills, showcase the best of work, and elevate the people who are doing great work in this space so that everyone can have higher standards to look up to and work towards” Sun concludes, laying out a roadmap for the future.