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?