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JaxChamber looking to turn One Spark momentum into business development [The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville :: ]
[April 19, 2014]

JaxChamber looking to turn One Spark momentum into business development [The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville :: ]

(Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 20--The One Spark festival highlighted new concepts, youthful vigor in the marketplace and a new approach to showcasing ideas in Jacksonville.

But what it means to traditional commercial enterprises in Jacksonville is evolving. The "world's crowdfunding festival" -- the moniker One Spark organizers gave it -- departs from traditional avenues that organizations such as the JaxChamber use. Crowdfunding, as One Spark deployed it, asks for votes from the audience to determine which entrepreneurs, artists and musicians would get a share of cash prizes.

The networks the Chamber uses to woo potential corporations and large-scale employers, as well as retain them, simply don't involve large crowds, said Daniel Davis, president of JaxChamber. He credited One Spark organizers for being "totally untraditional." "Clearly, any successful business through the generations has looked at ways to adjust and to attract younger people with new ideas. That's exactly the opportunity that we have with One Spark," Davis said.

The second annual event drew an estimated 260,000 people to the festival that ran from April 9-13. It was double the amount of people who attended the inaugural event in 2013. Meanwhile, the more than 600 participants, or creators, had an elevated stage that drew the attention of about 40,000 registered event voters who used smartphones, computers and kiosks to cast votes.

Elton Rivas, co-founder of the event, said that while the approach may be new, the effort by One Spark is not to compete with or displace traditional ways to develop business on the First Coast.

"If anything, it shows how those two generations are working together," the 32-year-old Rivas said the day after One Spark concluded. "The Chamber leadership has been extremely supportive, especially over the past year's cycle.

"I think everybody last year saw One Spark and said, 'OK, let's see what this thing is, let's try to figure it out and try to figure out how to tie into it.' This year, it's been a very, very different animal," Rivas said.

He added that support was not limited to the JaxChamber as many business groups have tied into the One Spark momentum.

But if there was any kind of proxy endorsement or acceptance of the rising entrepreneurs and organizers involved in One Spark, one of the highest-profile actions came from the Chamber.

The business development organization offered its headquarters on Independent Drive as one of the more than 70 venues in a 20-square-block downtown footprint for creators. It opened its parking lot for after-event parties. It provided sponsorship money -- $10,000 for a science project award and $5,000 for support expenses.

Davis said no doubt the 2013 event left many guessing as to what One Spark was all about. But he acknowledged a wake-up call in the local business community heading into the 2014 event.

"From last year to this year there was a change, I believe, in who attended One Spark [and] who participated in One Spark. I think that the business community's eyes were opened up to understand that there's a great opportunity for Jacksonville," Davis said. "I'm telling you this is the tip of iceberg, and I can't wait to see what happens next year." Davis said the Chamber already has a small-business development wing in the organization. But he said Chamber officials now are examining the possibility of changing the organization's structure to involve people from One Spark to help develop start-up business.

"We're looking at how we adjust our entrepreneurial-growth division to the marketplace. It would be crazy for us not to," Davis said. "We're currently looking at ways that we complement each other [the Chamber and One Spark] and to make sure we adjust to meet the demands." George Gresham, a marketing professor at Jacksonville University, said start-up businesses are not limited to young people. He said the American Association of Retired People is constantly profiling retired people who are starting businesses.

But One Spark organizers did a good job of making such a big event specific to entrepreneurs. The conversion of attention on start-ups is the key to advancing the Jacksonville business community, Gresham said.

"It appears that our whole global economy is now driven by innovation," Gresham said. "It [One Spark] is the kind of event that precipitated or raised [innovation] to the top." Gresham said the long-term success of One Spark and its impact on the community will lie in some sort of alliance with the Chamber.

"They're both different. But the go-ahead question right now is how can One Spark and the Chamber partner in regard to future events. One Spark has to be thinking about a second generation. ... You can't just ride this one horse," Gresham said.

Gresham said One Spark's new event in Berlin in September is a step in the right direction. But locally, One Spark's momentum requires more evolution.

Peter Rummell, the primary funder of the festival, said they're more than willing to accept a new role in the Chamber.

"I wouldn't apologize for One Spark being a farm team for the Chamber," Rummell said. "The Chamber is about people who pay dues and have ongoing business. In some ways, this [One Spark] is about getting to that point." Rivas downplayed any generational divide between the Chamber and One Spark. Rather, he said he sees One Spark now as augmenting the chamber's mission of enhancing business opportunities in Jacksonville.

"If anything, One Spark has become one of those great connectors in Jacksonville's ecosystem. That goes through and through with generations and cities and all these different things," Rivas said.

Drew Dixon: (904) 359-4098 ___ (c)2014 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) Visit The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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