Entrepreneurship- Seeking the “One Spark” of creativity

Redwood Coast businesses may not seem to have much in common with those in the sprawling megalopolis of Jacksonville FL, but take a closer look.  Both communities are port cities which need more business, both have downtowns which need revitalization, both have wealthy citizens who are willing to give back to the community, both have thriving art and music scenes, and both have avenues for those who are seeking funding for startup businesses. We have Economic Fuel, they have the new OneSpark.

OneSpark,  billed as “The World’s Crowdfunding Festival” took place over the  weekend of April 17-21 in the downtown area of Jax which was supposed to have received an economic boost from the Superbowl a few years ago, and didn’t. They chose to scatter the booths and exhibits throughout a “Creator Zone” and an “Entertainment District” stretching from Duval Street to the Jacksonville Landing on the river.  Even in the Florida heat- and in competition with the nonstop TV coverage of the Boston Marathon manhunt- the attendance over the five days reached 100,000 and there were exhibits or performances by over 900 Creators, 446 of which were officially entered in the Crowdfunding competition. Most of the rest were bands or graphic artists. Guests could vote or contribute ($5 minimum) for their favorite projects by Smartphone, by texting, by web or at a kiosk with the prize money allocated according to number of votes cast.  They could vote as many times as they wished, but only once for each project. Two stages were set up as “Pitch Decks” where creators could make a ten-minute pitch without even being registered at the Festival.

A major source of the prize money was Shad Khan, owner of the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars, who has stated he might be good for another million for specified projects. The Jax Cultural Council has already raised $180,000 towards keeping the ‘Spark District” a permanent force in the city, and will be awarding $60,000 in grants to artists who put their studios in a specified six-square-block area. The Downtown Investment Authority is seeking proposals in late May from group[s interested in putting on daily events in Hemming Plaza, a central but underutilized location.  It appears that OneSpark is more than a one-shot deal.

So who won?  Of the four categories – Music, Technology, Science and Art- Art received twice as many votes as the nearest competitor, Technology.  Among the proposals were everything from bands looking for money to record their first album and buy a van, to a massive plan called the Riverpool, a giant floating concrete dock adjacent to downtown including a marina for kayaks, restaurants, swimming pools and a public beach. On e project would transform a water tower on Jacksonville Beach into a colorful giant jellyfish. One woman is making furniture from recycled milk jugs.

But the winner by a large margin was “Rethreaded”, a company that works with women escaping the sex trade by training them to produce children’s clothing and other items from castoff T-shirts. The almost $7000 they won will fund their next four-month class.  The founder, Kristen Keen, had a similar company in India.  This has been just a quick once-over of a terrific event.  Maybe something we could try in Humboldt?

 

 

Roger Ebert- lessons in courage and branding

It’s been a sad week. I’ve been watching or reading Roger Ebert for what seems like most of my adult life, first with Siskel and Ebert , then after Gene Siskel’s untimely death from cancer, with Richard Roeper and more recently on Salon. He was one of a kind.  He had character.

About twenty years ago , while I was still living in Hawaii, my friend and I bought tickets to the Honolulu Film Festival.  In what turned out to be a really bad decision, I opted out of one of the evenings and my friend went alone. Being  a gregarious type, he struck up a conversation with the couple next to him, who turned out to be Roger Ebert and his gorgeous stewardess girlfriend. They invited him to a party after the film,  with the kind of friendliness that is so typical of Chicago people.

Years later, it was hard to watch the cancer take its toll but Roger Ebert didn’t let a little thing like losing his voicebox deter him from his purpose in life. He carried on with artificial voices and surrogates.  He never quit working.  He retained the rights to the “thumbs up, thumbs down” routine and few of us will ever hear those words without thinking of this extraordinary man.  Roger Ebert, dead at 70. May he rest in peace.

Hiatus- I have to spend a couple of weeks in Florida for family reasons. If the gators, sinkholes and pythons don’t get me, I will see you in a couple of weeks. Enjoy the rest of April!

“The Best of the North Coast”- really?

Where's my room??

Where’s my room??

Everyone loves lists, and I’m sure the North Coast business community pays close attention to the Times-Standard’s annual “Best of the North Coast” supplement that was just  published.

I find the list fascinating but everyone wonders the same thing: do these choices really reflect public opinion or is this more like when you were running for prom king or queen in high school and you had to go around and get your friends to vote for you.  Do the winners really represent “the people’s choice” or do they merely reflect organized campaigns in which employees and friends are “reminded” to cast their ballots? The editor states that “We hand-counted thousands of votes”.  I wonder why, the next time they do this, couldn’t they publish the actual counts? Then we’d know if the Kabob Cafe won the title “Best Place for a Business Lunch” by a margin of 3 votes or 40.  That was one of the weirder choices, to me. I love their food but I can’t see having a business lunch there, not if you need privacy.

Their winner in the “Hotel” category was very strange.  They listed the Holiday Inn at 2223 4th Street in Eureka although that property has been a Clarion for at least twelve years and the pleasant ladies at the front desk informed me there are no plans to revert to Holiday Inn status. Even more bizarre, they included, as a winner, the construction site on Broadway and Wabash where a Holiday Inn IS under construction but I find it hard to believe that it garnered votes as anyone’s favorite place to stay, considering there’s no roof yet.  Still, when you’re “hand counting thousands of votes” I suppose a few anomalies slip in.

I was pleased to see that a few of my favorite establishments were recognized.  The AA does have the best steaks, Hole in the Wall does have the best sandwiches, C&C Market does do a remarkable job of catering and McCrea Nissan where I have received the best service in my experience was honored, although paired with Mid-City Motors where I received the worst.  They shouldn’t  have categories where there are only one or two providers. St. Joseph’s vs  Mad River?  Apples and oranges.

Anyway, thanks to the Times-Standard for the supplement, which I always save for incoming visitors. Next year, let’s see the actual counts.  Might be interesting.