:: Voices ::

Dallas’ Fight for Flint

Jim Welch

It’s not every day that coders, engineers, and startup founders spend their weekend tackling a nationally recognized tragedy. Much less invest their resources into a project that is 1,205 miles away. But that is exactly what Startup Weekend Dallas is doing — and they are doing it big.

Startup Weekend is an international organization that hosts weekend events with the focus on taking groups of individuals and turning them into a startup within 54 hours. While these events may conjure images of Red Bull cans, laptops, and zippies, many of them have yielded incredible results and have become a cultural norm for the startup world.

Which leads us to Jim Welch. He ‘s a coder and composer who is currently working on BEVscore at Barista Ventures on the 7th floor of the Alto building in downtown Dallas.

Welch also serves as a Startup Weekend Dallas event organizer. Originally, the scheduled Startup Weekend event was going to focus on fashion. Locations were set and sponsors were in place. But then Welch caught a news story.

“I had heard about Flint and the water crisis but I hadn’t really seen the reports. Finally, I sat down and watched a brief report. What really caught my attention was an image of an unsealed fire hydrant shooting out this rust-colored water. I saw kids standing around it and of course, like any parent, I immediately thought of my four-year-old son,” he said.

“As I began to think of the wide spread implications, I felt an overwhelming sense of fear and desperation. I can’t imagine the hell these families are living through- the health problems, the corruption, and the anger,” Welch said.

That’s when he had that moment we all hear about, the inspiration and the infamous “ah-ha” moment. Even though Welch didn’t have any specific ideas for a solution to the Flint water crisis, he knew that he was surrounded by some of the brightest innovators in Dallas.

“All day every day, I sit in meetings or witness connections in the halls of Barista that result in true solutions. I work with engineers, lawyers, coders, marketers, and the list goes on. I bet we could come up with something to make a difference. So why not pivot from fashion to a fight?” Welch said.

So the next logical question isn’t whether they could help, but would there be enough time? And would everyone involved be willing to change his or her focus? You have to understand the teams of people that sign up for these events are mentally set on a specific industry or topic.

“It was crazy. I walked out of my office and mentioned it to a few guys I work with. They didn’t think about it. They didn’t say, ‘lets have a meeting.’ They took their phones out and started mobilizing their contacts,” Welch said. “I have never seen anything move so fast.”

Within 48 hours, Welch had rallied the support of the local startup community, and Chris Chang, the local representative for Startup Weekend, fully backed them. Fort Work and Barista Ventures stepped up as hosts for the event. Other key players in the local startup scene pitched in, as well.

“Any time we can dedicate resources to helping a community in need, we should. Startup Weekend and Fight For Flint is exactly the venue for this type of problem solving. The results are immediately actionable,” said Launch DFW’s Michael Sitarzewski.

But the story doesn’t stop there.

Within the first three days of sending out emergency emails to Startup Weekend Dallas, texts and calls began pouring in from concerned citizens wanting to join the Fight For Flint weekend. Many of them had never even heard of a Startup Weekend or a hackathon.

At the time of my interview with Welch, there had been volunteers, from as far away as Los Angeles, asking if they could participate. A crew even volunteered to drive relief supplies from Dallas to Flint, Michigan.

I, personally, have been amazed at how effortlessly this entire project has been turned around, embraced, and fully supported. It has crossed so many lines in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Suddenly, I wasn’t hearing arguments about who deserves to do what or witnessing the positioning that can go on from a multi-interest event like this one. The focus was crystal clear.

“We are going to do anything we can to help the families of Flint,” Welch said.

Those words have resonated since Welch first proclaimed them on the 7th floor of the Alto building in Dallas.

I’m proud to say that I live and work in a city that holds a total stranger’s life in that high of regard. Innovation doesn’t have to always be for profit, but it is always for making a change.

Learn more at www.fightforflint.com.


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Damian Skinner is an international speaker, author, film director/producer, innovation/creativity, and marketing consultant. As a fifth-generation entrepreneur, he has lived the startup game many ti(...)

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