CyberChampions 2023: Awwt - The platform that is changing the art world

Every year, CyberLab Karlsruhe, the IT accelerator of the state of Baden-Württemberg, presents the CyberChampions Award to the most innovative IT start-ups that have impressed with their promising business model and personalities. visited the winners in 2023 and portrayed them for our blog. We start with Awwt, the winning startup in the Diversity category.

The fair trade art platform Awwt breaks with the classic patterns of the art scene and puts the artists in the foreground. We spoke to Runan Dohrmann-Zhang, who founded the platform together with Henning Dohrmann-Zhang.

Awwt ‘s vision is to tackle the big problem in the art world: exclusivity and restricted access by traditional galleries. These galleries only represent a small selection of artists and rely on an already established network to achieve success. Runan explains: “There are a few agglomerated gatekeepers who dictate global taste. It is extremely difficult for emerging artists without a network to break through these barriers.”

This problem becomes particularly clear when someone also belongs to an underrepresented group and lives in regions with a limited arts infrastructure. Runan, who has worked in the white male-dominated London art world, has experienced these challenges herself.

Awwt is therefore committed to a power shift back to the artists by providing them with sales opportunities, attractive conditions and urgently needed resources. This is precisely what is missing from many existing sales platforms. They do not bring enough attention to the artists and do not support them in building up their artistic existence.

Awwt: From vision to reality

The inspiration to found Awwt came to the founders during a cross-country trip from Germany to Japan. Runan, who had worked for art dealers and Christie’s auction house in London, and her co-founder Henning, a former engineer at Mercedes-Benz, decided to combine their passions for art and technology. Henning, who said he was more interested in Giant racing bikes or Leica cameras at the time and had no access to the art world, found it through Runan.

With Awwt, the two wanted to create something that would do justice to both their generation and future generations. The platform sets itself apart from conventional galleries through the use of state-of-the-art technologies. “We use advanced algorithms to recognize the visual tastes of our users. This enables us to find the perfect work of art,” explains Runan. “You can think of it a bit like Spotify for art. Ultimately, this also sets us apart from many other sales platforms, where there is hardly any quality control and individual works of art simply get lost in the sheer mass.”

Runan and Henning Dohrmann-Zhang founded Awwt.

Awwt is well received in the art scene

With regard to the artists, Awwt takes a radically different approach. The challenges for artists in traditional galleries are manifold: high commissions of up to 50 percent of the sales value, the demand for exclusivity and thus a dependency on the gallery, which generally operates on a very local basis. Awwt breaks with all these conventions: “We offer attractive conditions for artists. They keep the majority of the sales proceeds and are not subject to exclusive contracts,” emphasizes Runan. “We even go one step further by covering the artists’ logistics and withdrawal costs.”

All of this has met with an overwhelmingly positive response from artists. “We now work with over 60 artists and the number is growing,” says Runan. The artists appreciate Awwt’s patience and support, especially the regular and open communication and the personal relationships that are built. “What is particularly motivating is that we already have evangelists who are spreading the word and recommending us to others. Some artists have already sold their first works – even though we are still in a test phase.”

Daniel Bonaudo-Ewinger (*1986 in Kandel) studied Fine Art / Painting at the Weissensee Kunsthochschule Berlin and graduated in 2021 with the title of Meisterschüler. Bonaudo-Ewinger lives and works in the Southern Palatinate. Photo: Oliver Wolff

“For me personally, the visibility and reach in the digital space through Awwt is enormously valuable,” Daniel Bonaudo-Ewinger, a young artist from Kandel, tells us. As the first in his family to graduate from high school and university, he is not only an educational climber, but also has to establish himself in an art world that is all about relationships, without them. In his final thesis as a master student at the Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin, he dealt with this challenge on a theoretical level and presented “Habitus”, a work that refers to Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of social origin.

He emphasizes how the playful operation of the platform simplifies access to painting and offers art lovers a new experience. Daniel particularly appreciates the transparent, uncomplicated collaboration with Awwt, which respectfully supports his artistic independence. “The platform can revolutionize the art market by making art more democratic and open,” adds the 37-year-old.

Awwt wants to reach all people

Another important aspect of Awwt’s philosophy is diversity. Winning the CyberChampions Award 2023 in the area of diversity underlines this. “We owe the CyberChampions Diversity Award 2023 to our artists. We are incredibly proud to have so many professional, German-based artists on board, who come from 15 ethnicities and the majority of whom are female or from BIPoC communities.”

However, the founders of Awwt also use their experience of living and working in different countries to ensure that the platform appeals not only to people in Germany, but all over the world. “Our aim is to make art accessible to a wider audience – and not just an elite group,” Runan tells us. Their aim is to tear down walls and borders. For this reason, they train the algorithm on which Awwt is based with a gender-diverse and wide-ranging demographic spectrum of users from all over the world. In this way, they ensure that their AI actually reflects the world we live in and is not subject to bias.

Awwt has big plans for the future: “Our mission is to offer the smartest art buying experience while bringing together the best artists in our fair trade ecosystem,” says Runan. It plans to initially establish the platform in Germany and the EU and then expand it to the UK and Chinese markets. Runan observes an upheaval in the art world in which artists have more and more options and is convinced that technology plays a key role in this change.

Photos: CyberForum / Björn Pados