In one of the more memorable scenes from any show that aired during television’s most recent golden age, Donald Draper (John Hamm) — fictional, genius creative director of fictional ad agency, Sterling Cooper, was unnerved by his young equally fictional protégé, Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss), when she accused him of a lack of graciousness.
“You never say thank you,” she demurred.
“That’s what the money’s for!”
e plenty of reasons to be excited about the World’s Largest Crowdfunding Festival. One Spark will provide some of the most flattering light imaginable for a downtown with a ton of forward momentum. The food trucks are back, as is the beer village. There’s a speaker summit, a ton of
live music, and it’s spring in Florida
But, although Northeast Florida has embraced it, the idea of One Spark has yet to be substantiated by a sufficient and reliable source of funding. And, in drumming up excitement for this year’s festival, the people behind One Spark have had to continuously bang away in the face of adversity and mounting criticism. There was the disappointing creator registration and attendance numbers at the Berlin incarnation of One Spark in September. Shad Khan pulled the rug out from underneath affiliate Kyn shortly thereafter. Then there was a leadership shuffle in December. And most recently, the registration deadline in mid-February brought to light the news that 55 fewer creators signed up for this year’s festival.
Then there’s the grind of the actual festival, which from the prospective of a creator, can seem exploitative.
It goes something like this:
Creators pay to enter their project in the festival and take multiple days off from their day job, One Spark throws a party for which the creators provide the bulk of the entertainment and, in return, the creators compete for (no guarantees) a modest sum of money — $15k goes to this year’s top jury prize, vote-getters, and contribution earners).
One Spark has taken much of the criticism to heart. The company made improving the festival’s phone application (which attendees use to vote for their favorite projects) a top priority this offseason. New project categories have been added, such as Social Good, to level the playing field of competitors for each prize pool. And, in an effort to better prepare potential creators, the company originated a series of workshops to serve as a sort of training ground for April’s main event.
The idea being, creators who participate will be better equipped to take advantage of fundraising opportunities during the festival.
But, when sermonizing on the merits of participating in One Spark, founder Elton Rivas continues to uphold that the most valuable thing any entrepreneur can receive from their week of work is the validation of their idea.
In the words of Don Draper:
“That’s what the money’s for!”
But those familiar with Mad Men know that even Don Draper often misses the big picture.
Three years ago, no one would have ever imagined that over the course of a long spring weekend, 250,000 people would find their way into Downtown Jacksonville. The founders of One Spark had a good idea, committed themselves to it fully, and made the damn thing happen.
In addition, there’s a lot happening on the periphery of One Spark that makes what’s going on inside the festival all the more exciting. Trends in urban renewal have illuminated Downtown Jacksonville (and surrounding neighborhoods) as a sort of blank canvas, ripe for creative restoration — One Spark was ahead of the curve when it came to seeing the potential of Jacksonville’s urban core. A lack of employment during the country’s continued rocky and uneven economic recovery may actually be encouraging folks to scratch an entrepreneurial itch. And young, former-Northeast-Florida-expats are moving back to the city in droves, bringing with them their own unique ideas about the way forward in the River City.
Let’s not forget the festival’s creators.
As illustrated in the articles that follow, One Spark no longer belongs to the organizers, or the city, or the angel investors who have promised to show up. One Spark now represents something bigger — much bigger than the prize money and much bigger than the validation that comes with having done a swell job. The yearly event has been embraced by a collection of dreamers, hackers, artists, cool dudes, bleeding hearts, musicians, nerds, crypto-libertarians, whackos and freaks.
The creators have validated One Spark.
The festival provided the spark; the creators brought the kindling. We can only hope the fire burns bright enough — and large enough — to reward all who helped light it.
CLICK THE CATEGORY BELOW FOR FOLIO’S ONE SPARK COVERAGE: