Awesome is as Awesome Does in Utrecht!

Last updated 2 years ago by Jon Wilkins

I wrote some weeks ago about the Awesomeness that is Awesome Utrecht. I tracked down one of the Awesome contingent to find out a bit more about the group and its aims. All I can say right now is what an Awesome group it is!

I interviewed Hylke Faber. He studied in Utrecht and is currently working as a business developer in the publishing and (e-)learning field. He is the editor of the recently published book De Utrechtse student: 1945 tot nu, and is also the author of Escaping Occupied Europe in English and initiator of Awesome Utrecht.

The Awesome Foundation distributes €1.000 grants with no strings attached, to projects and their creators. It is a worldwide scheme where at each fully autonomous chapter, the money is pooled together from the coffers of self-organizing micro-trustees and given up front in cash, check, or gold doubloons to groups who pitch the most innovative idea on the evening. Awesome!

It’s an obvious question, you had an awesome idea, where did it come from?

“It is! What is not to like about an inspiring location for a drink, amazing audience, twenty generous trustees, five Awesome ideas, € 1000 and one awesome winner?”

Hylke went on to explain that Awesome Utrecht is an independent chapter, of the Awesome Foundation, a worldwide community devoted to forwarding the interest of awesome in the universe. It was founded in 2009 in Boston, when a group of twentysomethings frustrated by the bureaucracy of traditional funding got together and said:

You know what would be awesome? If there were an organization that gave you money if you had an awesome idea.’

The rest is history.

Awesome Utrecht is one of 84 Awesome chapters in 14 countries. So far, 3607 projects have been funded across the globe and $3.607.000 has been granted to Awesome causes!

 Tell us a bit about Awesome Utrecht, indeed Why Utrecht?

It is a great city that can do with even more awesomeness.

I fell in love with the concept at a pitch night of Awesome Amsterdam. At that time, I felt like initiating something that had the sole purpose of doing good and inspiring, to just give without having to receive anything in return, no business model whatsoever.”

How did it happen?

“Just like that. Really. I had one goal: to find fellow trustees with the same drive as I have who I didn’t know yet. No friend group, no ‘in crowd’, but all new people. Together with my co-founder we started with one fellow trustee who I found through Google (I needed someone with the social media marketing skills I don’t have), we found the next trustee and so on and so on until there were twenty energetic people with the right attitude and skills, with the most important skill being able to successfully use an ATM frequently!”

In total so far, Awesome Utrecht have had thirty-five pitchers over seven pitch nights and had a total of nine winners. All are from people with quite different backgrounds and quite different ideas. Among the winning ideas so far was a plan to show the planets of our solar system in a scale of 1: all the way from the Dom Square to Rhijnauwen, a light switch on a lantern pole in the Griftpark making it possible to gaze at stars without light pollution, a whole month of creative activities last December and this summer a weekend of bubbles all over town, hammocks everywhere and a wonderful summer school called Connecting Cultures to connect Utrechters with refugees through jointly organized activities.

 I asked Hylke if he had a favourite project?

“Multiple! I really like the permanent planets and light switch to gaze at stars. Also, the winner of blowing bubbles graduated on his design and received a contract from a bubble blowing liquid company in Italy for the machine he designed. Really awesome and an unexpected result!”

© Ruben May

Does Utrecht inspire you?

Absolutely. The ideas at our pitch nights especially.

 Where is your favourite place in Utrecht?

“By far the Nieuwe Gracht. I love the quietness and serenity of it.”

 I wondered if there were any plans to expand the numbers in the group so that they could deliver more funding?

“So far, we don’t. To start with because this is the concept of the Awesome Foundation: € 1000, with no strings attached. Also, I think € 1000 is a good amount for an Awesome idea we are targeting, an idea one can come up with at the bar. For bigger (or smaller) ideas there are plenty of other funding opportunities. We’ve found our niche, I think.”

We actually need more ideas than more funding.

Are groups like yours there to take the place of government funding?

Absolutely not.

“As far as Hylke is concerned, the Government or Municipality should not be doing this type of funding. As they are funded with tax payers money they have to set up a bureaucratic system with rules and regulations about what to fund and so the idea of Awesome as it exactly is, undefined and with no strings attached, would be lost, and they probably wouldn’t get the same kinds of requests on what to spend the money on compared to the kind of ideas that Awesome Utrecht fund. Also, he thinks that it would ruin the opportunity that there is right now to come up with more daring ideas that might not get the approval of the municipality. Do let me add that the Utrecht municipality has been very supportive to the winners so far.”

 What projects would you like to instigate?

Projects that spark, surprise, that make you think and are barely legal.

“Two of my favourite examples are:

Planting hemp throughout the city as a fightback against the gentrification of the city and to give Amsterdam it’s legendary status back, find out more here.


Gold Rush: Where four nuggets of gold valued at € 250 each were hidden throughout the city. Clues are given out on a Facebook page and lead to historic monuments and streets that are linked to the colonial times informing the participants of the dark pages of our Golden Age history. The lucky finder of a golden nugget was asked to donate the nugget to the Keti-Koti festival.”

Hylke stressed that the group often get asked the question as to where the money is coming from. It’s simple, they fund the € 1000 themselves, from their own wages and private bank accounts. They do not have any official connections with the government or any other funding body. In fact, they are not even a legal entity.

© Ruben May

The pitch nights are organized by the trustees as well. They do not only give € 1000 but also help the winners to fine tune and to strengthen their idea and offer their own knowledge and network if the successful pitchers want it.

Even if you don’t win but do have a great idea, we would like to help you two of the nine winners did not win € 1000 but we gave them our active support and they realized their project anyway!

Hylke told me, “The next pitch night is on November 27 at Sonnenborgh (the observatory – a really cool location). Everyone is more than welcome and ideas for the following event in the first pitch night of 2019 on February 12 at Wolvenplein are welcomed. Then come back early next year with your own Awesome idea. You know it makes sense!”

Please share your idea with us at the Awesome Utrecht web page.

Follow us at Facebook and Instagram to keep up-to-date and join us at our pitch nights!

So, check out the Awesome Facebook page

And the Awesome Instagram site

Unless mentioned photographs are courtesy of Roland Vaandrager. He is their Awesome Photographer.

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About the Author

Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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