A Dallas bike maker who struck it big on Shark Tank is now trying to give away more of his creations to children battling cancer.
At a Dallas bike-making business called Villy Custom, Villy is short for Deville, the Bullmastiff who serves as the company mascot.
The enormous canine oversees a warehouse where there are enough different colored bike parts that owner Fleetwood Hicks says he could put together billions of bikes without any of them being exactly the same. That’s what makes them Villy "Customs." But in a radical departure, Fleetwood now wants to copy and mass produce six pre-designed bikes.
“This one is the Caleb. This is the Annabelle, that is the Ellie,” he says as he points out several of the prototypes, all of which are named after Dallas pediatric cancer patients who have each been surprised with their own tricked out, personalized, Villy Custom bike.
WFAA was there in 2015 when then 11-year-old Ellie Slate received her wheels. “I like it. I love it. This feels good. I haven’t ridden a bike in a really long time,” she gushed. It was a happy moment for Fleetwood too. "It’s a pretty awesome feeling. It feels really good," Fleetwood said.
This was all inspired by Fleetwood Hicks’ mother, who waged her own battle with cancer years ago. “The bottom line is she told me how she could feel for a child going through something like this and how hard it would be on them.”
So roughly once a month, he has been trying to ease that burden by giving bikes to kids like Ellie. And often times, his biggest payback has come long after the reveal. “The last time I saw Ellie, she didn't have any hair. And when she came back in here, she has hair and she has put on weight, and she has all her friends with her, and she is a super happy kid again."
During Ellie’s last visit to Fleetwood’s warehouse, she had a dance party with some friends and talked about her Villy bike and her Villy bond. “They did so much for my family, and it makes me feel really good about myself because they want to be with me the whole time.”
Other recipients have sent thank you's in writing. Fleetwood shared a few excerpts, “To receive a Villy bicycle made her evening truly in bold all caps REMARKABLE. This is a really good one…she says this is such an awesome reward for all the junk they have to go through."
The responses inspired something more, “When you start seeing that, you say, 'Wow, can we do this bigger? How can we grow this foundation?"
Villy Custom has now begun a Kickstarter campaign to sell as many of those six pre-designed models as possible. For each ten they sell, they’ll raise enough to give another bike to another kid. The hope is that they’ll be able to deliver a whole truck full of this special medicine to pediatric cancer patients.
“So our goal is to pull up to the hospital and give away hundreds of bikes at one time with one big awesome reveal," Hicks said.
In a place where there are so many different ways to make a bike--and a buck—Fleetwood Hicks has found that giving away these smiles on two wheels is more rewarding than selling them.
"To me, it's like a deeper meaning than just business, it's truly like a higher calling kind of thing to know that you are giving back," he said.