Many ideas are honed and crafted by friends at a local coffee shop, but none quite like the idea that is changing Jacksonville one festival at a time.
Just three short years ago, Elton Rivas, Varick Rosete and Dennis Eusebio met at Panera Bread off Southside Boulevard to discuss their goals for the vision that is now pushing this city forward: One Spark.
“In the beginning it was not a festival, it was more of a movement,” said Rosete, who is the art director at Tiger Lily Media in Jacksonville. “I know for me personally, I was seeing a lot of very talented friends move out of Jacksonville and go off to San Francisco, New York City or Austin. They kept leaving because they couldn’t do what they wanted to do here. They didn’t have the funding, the resources, the connections.”
These three founders knew there were resources here in their backyard; it was just about connecting the right dots. “If you want to do something and have a passion, go figure out how to do it,” Rosete said. “The world will help you get there.”
That was certainly proven after their Kickstarter campaign raised over $100,000 in 30 days, which was enough market validation to begin making these connections, explained Rivas, CEO of One Spark 2015.
“Every city, regardless of size, has challenges getting great ideas connected with resources they need,” Rivas said. “If you’re in a major market such as New York, it is hard because there is so much noise. If you’re in a smaller market like Jacksonville, it’s difficult to do it because the pathways for those connections to happen haven’t been built yet.”
Being able to make these connections was a common passion of the founders. Rivas and Rosete met while looking for a co-work space in downtown a few years ago. Co-work is an organization meant to help connect people and ideas and provide a support group for entrepreneurs. Eventually Eusebio came into the fold and the three took off with the idea of One Spark.
Rosete and Eusebio said after going through many naming exercises and playing with probably a hundred different names, One Spark was chosen because it represents a universal theme — anyone, anywhere can understand that one idea that gets you going, said Eusebio.
However, before the idea of a festival came about, they considered making One Spark a competition between different cities to see what area could showcase the best projects. Creating a way to crowdfund and motivate people to support their city.
While Rivas, Rosete and Eusebio were working on One Spark, three other friends were pursuing a design for a cultural festival called Epic, much like ArtPrize, a 19-day art festival in Michigan. The six of them were meeting to talk about their plans and realized the two projects were strikingly similar.
“There was a certain point where we converged and were running in parallels,” Rosete said. “We all have the same vision to push the city forward.”
Rosete described it as the Epic team “handing over the baton,” allowing One Spark to be the annual festival that graces the streets of downtown Jacksonville.
“We live in a city that is so big geographically and that makes it hard to have a core or sense of unity,” Eusebio said. “So in the beginning, we were just hoping to inform people and make everybody aware of the cool things going on around them and celebrate that.”
Little did they know it would become much bigger than they expected. Rivas said year one was amazing: they estimated about 100,000 in total would come to One Spark in 2013. That was exceeded by 30 plus percent and more than doubled in 2014. “It was wild,” Rivas said.
Many people give credit to One Spark for changing the dynamic of Jacksonville, pushing people beyond their comfort zones and encouraging creativity. Eusebio said while that’s nice, it’s not completely true.
“We just came in at the right time. People were already doing amazing things; we just played our part in connecting the right dots,” Eusebio said. “That’s what One Spark really did.”
Rosete explained that networking is the most important part of One Spark. He said the money has always been a great incentive, but it’s more about the relationships people make both during and after the festival is over.
Staying in Jacksonville to create this cultural movement was critical for all three founders; they believed this city needed it and they didn’t want to leave Jacksonville behind.
“At the time, we all had opportunities in different areas to do similar things, and it came down to who needed it most and where did our hearts lie,” Eusebio said. “Which has to be some part of the equation—you can’t always just rely on where the money is.”
Rivas said Jacksonville’s latent excitement kept him here.
“We think doing it in a smaller market like this helps with getting the inertia going out of the gate,” Rivas said. “And there is so much pent-up demand for something here.”
As for Rosete, Jacksonville is home.
“We grew up here, so we could see a lot of the things we wanted it to become,” Rosete said. “I love Jacksonville. I love hitting up other cities, but I also love coming back home to Jax. We can do so many things here.”
Rosete noted how it is easier for people to move and pursue their dream in a city that already has creative infrastructure built. It is much harder to build it from the ground up, but he is motivated by challenge.
“I am inspired by people who get to a point where it is easy and comfortable and then they go and do something else,” Rosete said.
These three creators have done just that. While considering expansion and the interest of a mutual friend of theirs, Travis Todd, another Jacksonville native, they brought One Spark to Berlin in 2014. With the help of Rivas, Rosete and Eusebio, Berlin experienced the same momentum and drive that Jacksonville did.
Rosete said to test this in another major city was great. This idea can be viable in almost any place you go, he said.
“Here are people with great ideas and all they want to do is connect with other people to help them get to the next level,” Rosete said. “You saw the same kind of hustle, the same kind of feel and passion as we did here.”
The trio have made their mark in Jacksonville and are proud of the progress the festival has made in just three years.
“This is why we got started with One Spark. We were all passionate about doing something and changing the way things were, and it’s been great to see since year one with all the momentum behind it,” Rosete explained.
The next step the founders are taking is solidifying One Spark as a sustainable business. Rivas said one way to do that is ensuring April’s festival is fantastic, and there are really great creators.
“We are in a world today where if you don’t like the way something is done, you need to do something about it,” Rosete said. “Actions speak so much louder than words. If you believe in it, I’m sure there’s other people out there that believe in it as well. Find those people.”
By: Riley Wolf, Managing Editor of IgniteMedia