Accelerator week in Tennessee kicked off on Monday evening with a VIP reception for the GigTank accelerator and then an event called Fireside Talks, which featured members of the Thiel Fellows Program and local Chattanoogans under the age of 20 who are doing great things.
The Fireside Talk event was kicked off by serial entrepreneur, angel investor, advisor, mentor, and “Mr. Chattanooga” Stephen Culp. Culp, who speaks on entrepreneurship and is passionate about startups. wanted to be brief and insisted that the focus be on the young entrepreneurs who he said “had me questioning what I was doing at age 20”.
Before he left the stage though Culp drove home three major points:
- everyone has entrepreneurism in them
- entrepreneurism isn’t just for profit
- entrepreneurs need support
The second point was manifest Monday evening when Jack Skowronnek took the stage. This unique 14-year-old didn’t start some social mobile game, nor did he develop some kind of note taking app for school students. Rather, Skowronnek is a social entrepreneur. The best part: he’s been doing it since he was ten years old.
It was when Jack was 10 and going into the sixth grade that his elementary school teacher in Chicago recommended he read the book “Drums Girls and Dangerous Pie” by Jordan Sonnenblick. He told the standing room-only audience at the Chattanooga Theater Center that “you’d never guess what the book was about,” and of course who knew that a book with a title like that would be about a boy who shaved his head in solidarity with his brother who has cancer.
Shaving one’s head to support someone with cancer isn’t anything new. Former President George HW Bush just recently shaved his head when he found out that members of his secret service detail had shaved theirs in solidarity with one of their agents whose son Patrick has leukemia.
What’s unique about Jack is that upon completing the book he immediately told his parents that he needed (not wanted) to shave his head. After stating his case his parents allowed him to do just that. Along with shaving his head he started raising money for St.Baldrick’s, a national non profit organization that encourages people to shave their head and donate to help cancer patients. In two years Jack had raised over $5,000 for the charity.
When he moved to Chattanooga, he continued to shave his head and raise money. His story got picked up by local radio stations and Paul Smith, General Manager at the Chattanooga Market, heard about Jack and immediately contacted his mother Dawn Skowronnek. Smith wanted to host Jack’s head shaving event at the market, a very popular destination in Chattanooga.
As the event evolved, Jack was convinced to start his own charity to help the Children’s Hospital Foundation, which would keep the proceeds at a local level and help more than 50 Chattanooga area children with cancer. Jack’s foundation was christened Jack’s Chattanoggins, incorporating Chattanooga and noggin.
Young Jack moved the audience near tears when he told the story about a girl named Kennedy who he had befriended at the hospital. Kennedy had suffered through losing a lung and a leg to cancer but remained positive and upbeat. At one point she donated $20 to Jack’s campaign, even though he found out from the girl’s mother she never parts with her money. Jack also realized the significance of his efforts when the people he was trying to help were turning around and donating as well.
Last year Kennedy passed away, which made Jack start doubting his efforts. He explained that he attended the young gir’ls wake but couldn’t bring himself to come to the funeral. Jack dedicated the most recent Jack’s Chattanoggins event to Kennedy’s honor. It was also the most successful to date.
Jack obviously has hair in the picture above. In between events he grows his hair out so it can be shaved again. At the last event even the Mayor cut a lock of Jack’s blonde hair for the cause.
Jack plans on continuing this kind of work for the rest of his life. His entire family and the city of Chattanooga back him 100%. Jack’s looking forward to starting the 9th grade on Thursday and continuing to change the world one hair at a time.