One Spark is coming to town! The world’s crowdfunding festival celebrates its inaugural five-day event this month, bringing creative people with ideas from Jacksonville and around the world to showcase their projects and get funding to bring them to life. Since One Spark is a new event, the likes of which have never been attempted before, we’ve assembled the following, unofficial guide to the key elements that make One Spark tick.
One Spark is all about the Creators. But showcasing at One Spark is about more than just winning some prize money. “One Spark is really providing you with an amazing platform to get your product in front of a lot of people, validate it and have a really good chance at getting funded right there on the spot,” remarked Darren Bounds in a recent video interview for One Spark. In addition to competing for a slice of the very generous $250,000 pie, Creators at One Spark will have the opportunity to pitch, demonstrate and get valuable feedback from the public in a relatively short period of time. Such priceless information usually comes at a considerable cost and takes months, if not longer, to gather. When a Creator comes out of One Spark they may be sitting on a substantial pile of cash to fund their project, or they may simply learn what they need to do differently. Either way, the experience will be worth the minimal investment of time, money and effort required to participate.
Registration ended in February, but over 450 Creators signed up and were accepted by Venues as part of One Spark’s “matchmaking” process. “Convincing people that their idea was good enough or far along enough turned out to be a greater challenge than we anticipated,” comments Jack Twachtman, who manages One Spark’s social media campaigns. Projects at One Spark will be at varying stages of development. Some will be post-revenue, looking to expand the scope of their current mission. Others will be completely conceptual, simply looking to validate an idea, while others will be in the beta or prototype stages. The threat of failure may have prevented some from applying to One Spark, but those who were willing to take a chance will reap the rewards. “Go out there and do whatever it is that you want to do,” were the motivational words of Jason Headsetsdotcom (né Sadler) to potential Creators. “Don’t hold back. Don’t listen to people who tell you you can’t do it. Just try, learn from it if you fail, but give yourself a chance.”
Patrick Murphy has kept long hours helping Creators and Venues coordinate with each other and answering the frequently asked questions associated with such a new and revolutionary initiative. The task may be be daunting and frustrating at times, but Patrick remains positive, inspired by the creativity and passion of those involved. “One Spark Creators are the most intriguing, courageous, and passionate group of individuals I have ever worked with,” says Murphy. “The projects that are being showcased at One Spark 2013 are absolutely amazing. One Spark Creators are going to bring a thrilling energy to downtown Jacksonville for five days and provide attendees with a glimpse at the next great breakthrough.”
In January, the potential boon to One Spark Creators increased significantly when Jaguar’s owner and self-made entrepreneur, Shad Khan, stepped up to the plate to announce a $1 million investment fund to be included among the potential funding sources. The STACHE Fund, as it has been cleverly titled, will have members of Khan’s venture-capital firm combing the streets looking for promising businesses to invest in. At the most recent Town Hall event on March 14, Khan released a statement concerning the overall purpose of his involvement. “We will show a preference to invest in those who are willing to base their business in Jacksonville, which is the STACHE fund’s primary investment mandate. We can also offer them a much larger level of support and services if they base their business in Jacksonville,” Khan’s statement read. “[One Spark] will bring people to Jacksonville, and we hope STACHE can help persuade them to stay by offering them all they need to become successful.”
Anyone can attend and participate in One Spark 2013. The event is free and open to the public. But to truly make an impact, attendees must register to vote either in advance via the One Spark website (www.beonespark.com/voters/new) or on-site. Once attendees have registered and validated their voting account, they must activate it by checking in at the festival either at a kiosk or via the One Spark app from their smartphone. This ensures that only those who actually attend One Spark are able to decide which projects get funded.
Communicating the voter registration process and how it works is a major priority for the One Spark team. “Voting is the way Creators get funded,” was One Spark’s director Elton Rivas’ mantra at the March Town Hall event. “The power of crowdfunding is just that…the aggregated funding from a crowd and ultimately the democratization of capital. One Spark attendees decide the disbursement of the $250,000 guaranteed crowdfund. More importantly, just a few dollars contributed by each attendee would fund millions for Creators’ projects.” Of course, attendees can take it a step further and contribute directly to a project in any dollar amount.
It helps to conceptualize of votes as akin to Likes on Facebook, as attendees can vote for as many projects as they like but only each one once. At the end of the festival, the votes are tallied and the $250,000 crowdfund is distributed according to the percentage of the vote a Creator receives. “There will be no hanging chads in Florida this go round,” Elton promises.
PITCH DECKS & STAGES
Comparisons to Art Walk are often made when describing the One Spark experience, but as great as the monthly Downtown block party is for Jacksonville, One Spark enhances the street festival experience by giving Creators additional ways of promoting their projects besides simply manning a booth.
The pitch is the most crucial part of launching a new project. Whether your desire is for funding, technical support, personnel or simply advice, founders and idea-makers often have a short window to communicate the elements of their business, idea or project. At One Spark, Creators will have the opportunity to take the stage at one of two Pitch Decks to broadcast their idea to a captive audience of voters and investors. Pitchers have a short time to communicate why their project is worth supporting and moving forward. It isn’t a bad idea to bring a chair and listen to some pitches to decide which projects you want to visit personally to learn more about.
“What’s a festival without music?” asks One Spark Social Media Viking and Jacksonville music advocate, Jack Twachtman, in a recruitment video. Not a very fun one, is One Spark’s response. Three stages will be set up at the Jacksonville Landing to give bands and musicians participating in One Spark the chance to showcase their talent to the crowd. “Bands will compete for funding to record new albums, go on tour, buy new equipment or whatever is required to take things to the next level,” says Twachtman.
Bands will also be providing the entertainment alongside fire-breathers, sideshows and various types of performance art in the One Spark Entertainment District, located East of Ocean Street with major showcases scheduled at Burro Bar, Dos Gatos, 1904 and Underbelly. Creators of all kinds will hit the streets, bars and restaurants to continue promoting their projects and collecting votes. “Downtown hasn’t seen the level of energy that One Spark will bring to the nightlife scene since probably the Super Bowl,” Jack adds. “It’s going to be a celebration for the history books!”
Pulling off an event of such scope requires a lot of help from the public. Meredith Johnson, One Spark’s Volunteer Coordinator, has been working tirelessly to recruit and train a virtual army of volunteers.
“We’re thrilled that the Jacksonville community has really stepped up to help us make One Spark happen. We’ve recruited over 550 volunteers in two months, but we still need a few more,” says Meredith. Primarily, One Spark is looking for enthusiastic, customer service-oriented individuals to serve as guides and help attendees with registration. They also need help with the Tech Crew to assist in stage setup, management and A/V.
Volunteering with One Spark does not come without its perks. After meeting a minimum obligation, volunteers can unlock exclusive One Spark gear and gain entry into the appreciation party. At the March Town Hall, One Spark surprised Whitney Washington, their first and most involved volunteer, with a GoPro camera to show their appreciation for her dedication and hard work over the past few months.
Washington is a recent graduate of Full Sail University who created a crowdfunding platform of her own for her final project. She is now applying the video editing-skills she used in school to help One Spark Creators communicate their message and promote their projects. “I like creators and I have a passion to help them grow. That’s why I got into video making, because I wanted to tell their stories,” she says.
One Spark is not a trade show or a conference, but it does share some similarities with such events in the form of guest speakers. A dynamic group of innovators, entrepreneurs and various movers and shakers across the associated One Spark Creator categories have been assembled to share their knowledge and passion to motivate and energize the One Spark crowd.
Carl Smith, owner and founder of the Jacksonville-based creative services company nGen Works is One Spark’s only local speaker. The rest come from all corners of the country (and beyond) bringing with them different perspectives and experiences. Now living in Tel Aviv, Israel, Dan Marom wrote the book on crowdfunding, literally. In 2010, Marom co-authored The CrowdFunding Revolution with Kevin Lawton and is working on a book about One Spark that will tell the founders’ story, how the whole thing came together and what it means for the future. Doc Waller, another key speaker, is a man who is passionate about the Arts. As a performer, writer and director, Doc has produced original theatrical productions, curated art exhibits, and is currently producing a web series entitled On Beauty with Doc Waller.
Anyone who has used the popular email marketing service, MailChimp, knows that what sets it apart is the user experience. Somehow, MailChimp was able to turn something as boring and mundane as email marketing into a fun and enjoyable experience. Jenn Downs is a big part of that and is just one of several female guest speakers attending One Spark 2013. Others include online privacy advocate, Jessica Cherok; assistant professor and web education proponent, Leslie Jensen-Inman, and Wren Lanier, the co-founder of BILL Conference whose mission is to inspire people to make things out of their great ideas.
Other notable speakers include former Nine Inch Nails drummer, Martin Atkins, who writes and speaks on the future of the music industry, Tom Murphy, the former mayor Pittsburgh who is largely credited for the city’s urban renewal program in the last decade, and web specialist, Willie Jackson.
Last but not least is Ron J. Williams, dubbed by Fast Company Magazine as one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business.” The serial entrepreneur and jack-of-all-trades is the co-founder of two successful start-ups, SnapGoods and Knodes, both of which are built upon social networking. Williams made a digital appearance at the most recent Town Hall event, expressing his support and excitement for the upcoming festival.