It’s difficult to describe in a few words how much entrepreneur Joey Womack does. The self-proclaimed ‘Rebel With a Cause’ is shacking up communities and companies at their core through his businesses, Amplify 4 Good and Goodie Nation.
Originally from Mobile, Al., Womack is shaping the social good and helping boost startup diversity in Atlanta and beyond. Through Amplify 4 Good, Womack consults with mid-size to large companies and helps them come up with better ideas through internal ideation hackathon sessions, where employees are encouraged to speak up and be innovative. Goodie Nation was born out of the same idea, but with a mission for serving underserved communities and encouraging change through education.
Womack took a break from his hustle to talk to Hypepotamus about how he hopes to bring change to communities across the country with Goodie Nation and how hackathons can spark change in your company.
When did you first become interested in technology?
My big break in technology came when I got into Tuskegee University’s summer 1996 engineering program for 30 of top black high school students in the Southeast going into my senior year. Each student got a $1,000 stipend, but I knew that I didn’t want to be an engineer, I just wanted to get paid.
They assigned each of us a mentor throughout the summer. We had an end-of-summer project and my mentor asked me what kind of engineering I wanted to major in. It was one of those moments in life where you can either go left or go right, and my initial thought was to tell him a lie. But something said — tell him the truth. I told him, “I’m here to have fun and get paid.” He was like, “I’ll just teach you how to create websites.” It was a powerful moment as I didn’t even have a computer at home. So he taught me HTML, and that was my summer project.
What has Amplify 4 Good been up to since 2015?
What we learned in 2014 (our first year) was that a lot of the non-profits that we served didn’t really need technology to solve their problems as they were more marketing-related.
We iterate into this internal hack-a-thon/ideation lab model, essentially leadership training for either larger non-profits or for-profit companies. So that’s what Amplify 4 Good’s been focusing on since 2015. First, we did a version for CARE USA, we’re now going into the third version of that program. We did one for Coca-Cola’s Research and Development group. We did one with Google, helping them think through this year’s presidential elections. Companies can also hire us to do external things — like hack-a-thons with outside talent.
Right now, we’re organizing a hackathon for Ford Motor Company in Detroit during the National Drop Out Prevention Conference — they are developing a platform where teachers can teach their students design thinking, coding, business planning and pitching throughout the school year. They want to take the curriculum all across the nation using that platform.
How do hack-a-thons help inspire execution of change?
One of the underrated things is that, from an internal standpoint, it gives employees hope. What we see is that a lot of times their ideas are stifled in meetings and when you talk to higher ups or so forth, a lot of them become very disengaged. These internal ideation sessions are releasing that. It’s a way for them to show their managers that, “hey this is a really good idea.” We’ve seen it on numerous occasions, employees become frustrated, they’re on the verge of leaving and now it gives them hope.
The way we align things, we have this process that makes it a little bit easier for the ideas to be implemented quickly. We put things in place to make sure the ideas, not to say all of them, but some of them get traction, even the ones that don’t “win” the pitch competition.
How does Goodie Nation work into all of this?
In 2015, it became apparent that Amplify 4 Good was going to be more about consulting with organizations. At the core of why we started it all was the desire to rapidly solve problems in underserved communities. We were trying to figure out how to use innovation to affect those communities directly. That’s how Goodie Nation came about.
Earlier this year, we had a pilot program around education here in Atlanta. Next, we went to Charlotte to work on creating healthier communities by reducing waste. We just finished up a hackathon there in Charlotte with the City’s Solid Waste Services Division. We’re helping people understand how much food waste they are generating by making bad health choices. Eventually you’ll get around to actually making better food choices, and it’s a healthier environment.
We use cities where a problem is pretty bad as a pilot area. But whatever comes out of the process, the idea should be scalable. So it doesn’t really matter where you are.
How does Atlanta weave into your story?
One, Atlanta is a hotbed of talent, all across the board, young, old, and every ethnic group. It’s a city with international impact, especially from a social standpoint. Everyone comes through to visit because of the airport, so we have a lot of people coming in and out. You can really make a lot of connections. Socially, it’s a great place, but also how the city is changing is really a great example of what is going on around the nation. So, fortunately or unfortunately, we get a peak at a lot of the problems that are happening to everyone and we can say,” oh I want to change this because I see it, or I hear about it.” Obviously, the history of the social impact of the city creates a great backdrop as well.
What are your long-term goals for your initiatives?
On the Amplify 4 Good side, we really would like to work on some actual products that tie into our physical activations (ideation sessions and hackathons). We teach people how to think like a tech entrepreneur and solve problems, and we want to help them think about becoming better innovators, better rapid problem solvers by connecting them to additional resources.
Now on the Goodie Nation side, there’s just so many more things we want to do. We get a lot of data that comes through our system — people signing up to participate in hackathons, volunteering with events, become mentors, etc. For instance, let’s say gentrification — there are a bunch of different types of stakeholders involved in just that ecosystem: economic development organizations, real estate developers, government agencies, non-profits, community groups, and so forth. We want to use technology make it easier for them to know about each other, and more importantly, collaborate with each other.