About This Festival
“Ideas are the heart and soul of One Spark,” writes Elton Rivas, the event’s youngish founder. Anyone who has an idea or a project underway—in any stage of development—can come plant seeds for its growth at this free five-day festival, which is an energetic celebration of all things innovative.
While technology and the other sciences are naturally a big part of that, One Spark also welcomes entrepreneurs—or “Creators,” as they’re called here—with aspirations in a variety of other realms, including the arts, education and the social good.
After reading and getting inspired by a book called Startup Communities by Brad Feld, Rivas debuted this gathering in 2013. More than 100,000 people showed up. In 2014, attendance jumped to 260,000, and a companion event (One Spark: START, which happens in September) popped up in Berlin, Germany.
It’s all very exciting for anyone involved in startups or investing—especially those who don’t live near venture-capital hubs like San Francisco. Rivas’s impetus for using the River City as the backdrop for his lively event was simply that he preferred to feed the startup culture in his own backyard rather than relocating. "We were tired of hearing that we had to move away from Jacksonville to do something cool, so we decided to make it happen here," Rivas told a Huffington Post reporter.
Follow the Money
Even though One Spark is free to attend (well, mostly: the Speaker Summit and the VIP lounges charge admittance fees), this festival is all about the money – getting it, giving it, and spreading it around to the worthiest contenders.
If you’re an entrepreneur, there are a few ways to get cash for your startup here. One of them involves lobbying for attendees’ votes. There’s a sum—in 2014, it was $310,000, not including juried prizes and bonus awards—available to be distributed based on who gets how many votes. Last year, more than 120,000 votes were cast toward 610 creators.
To take another tack, entrepreneurs can just focus on networking with the right people. One Spark is a magnet for investors looking to find (and fund) their next big thing. Shad Khan, who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars, used One Spark as his guide toward pouring more than $3 million into up-and-coming projects and investments. Have your elevator pitch ready!
Even if entrepreneurs don’t hit networking gold, they’re all actively collecting connections in the form of potential collaborators and mentors. These artists, innovators, musicians, and technologists are trying to turn their ideas into reality, and they know that the people here can help them do it. You’ll see the most ambitious among them lobbying from booths and strolling the grounds making face-to-face pitches and spreading the word.
As an attendee, you have a say in what gets developed and what doesn’t. How? You download the festival’s official app, which lets you vote on the projects that impressed you most. (Though you can access the app from anywhere, you must be physically present at the festival to make your vote count.) Those that get the most votes also get the most money. That money, incidentally, was itself crowdfunded, and also donated from high-profile benefactors including Peter Rummell, a former Disney executive. Call it democracy or call it a popularity contest, but here, the biggest crowd-pleasers get the green.
The festival has a TED-like component called the Speakers Series, where leaders in the entrepreneurial community share their thoughts and ideas about where innovation should be going, how to be a disruptor and guidance for seeing vision through.
Past presenters have included Jeff Barlow, the creative manager for Starbucks and Brian Meece, CEO of RocketHub. 2015's roundup of speakers included Daymond John, the Shark Tank star and founder of FUBU; Jeff Hoffman, a founder of Priceline; Tamara Mendelsohn, Eventbrite’s marketing vice president; and 14-year-old Maya Penn, a prolific entrepreneur and activist.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
One Spark has a fierce work-hard-play-hard ethic. To prove it’s not all business and no fun, organizers and volunteers do a lot to promote a street-festival atmosphere.
Music stages feature all through the event, and performances run all day and into the night. Last year’s artists include Flagship Romance (at the speaker summit), DJ Lil Boy, Mates of State, and Echosmith (at the opening party in Hemming Park).
Food booths and trucks spotlight the city’s best fare, and the beer village offers local brews, some of which were crafted especially for the festival.
Dozens of fun venues help host One Spark, including restaurants, bars, churches, shops, museums, co-working spaces, parks, and art studios—pop into as many of them as you can. During this high-energy, ideas-fueled event is when they shine their brightest.