Vision, momentum, traction.
When the class of 2004 left Jacksonville after high school, there was little community-wide vision for a unified technology movement. The first dot com bubble had burst and many beach front mansions sat vacant, their formerly high-value occupants having crept back to the northeast to dig back in. The people making money in Jacksonville were the real estate developers, but 2007 and 2008 held a particularly nasty surprise for them. This was the closing of the class of ‘04’s college years, and the kids who had gone to school in other places to learn about things like Agile methodologies and user experience and pre-revenue funding rounds probably never even glanced at Jacksonville on their path to the new Edens of San Francisco, Seattle and Boulder. And who can blame them? It wasn’t so much about going where the grass was greener as it was about going where there was actually some grass.
In the early decadals, however, there was a spark of vision. Elton Rivas, Dennis Eusebio, Varick Rosete and a number of other people started having conversations about ways to move the tech needle in Jacksonville. There were a few things happening quietly. A few startups here and there were getting funding, a couple of fantastic development shops were building products and the talent in the design community was focusing more and more on user interfaces, not solely traditional graphic. Overall, however, Jacksonville lacked the level of community-wide discourse that drove other small communities (i.e., Austin) to the center of the technology conversation.
There are a thousand components to building a movement, and when it comes to technology environments, many of those things are high-profile community events. Elton, Dennis and Varick conceived of a festival that would mimic some others in scope (technology, art, community, etc.) but would take an emerging idea known as crowdfunding and put it into a physical space in Jacksonville’s core. The launch of this concept was the beginning of momentum.
As the conversation built, those members of the class of 2004 began to pick their heads up. The next two years paid attention, too. Many of us were running into an increasingly difficult environment in the West and the Northeast. Others were facing increasing rates of business expense that outstripped our power to build fast. Still others were realizing that six, seven, or eight years after leaving Jacksonville they were small fish in giant oceans of tech bros. By the time OneSpark ‘13 launched, people like me had been pulled back to the city brimming with curiosity and hope.
Now we’ve passed One Spark’s second year, and we are at that awkward phase between momentum and traction. Some important moves have been made. One Spark itself is growing and expanding (to Berlin and beyond!), and we’ve seen a consolidation of technology companies into the urban core. A few startups have been funded, and in the last year we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of meetups and conversations that are happening between builders, makers, product managers and technologists.
We still need some wins. We need to see some companies make big exits. We also need to do a better job connecting with communities other than the one in Jacksonville. When we hire, we should be hiring the best people in the country, so we need to create employee incentive programs that make our companies worth moving for. We should expect city planners to build an environment worth living in. This means paying attention to urban design standards that are guiding awesome cities like Chattanooga and Charlotte, and ignoring the behest of Orlando’s developers.
What comes next is up to you. If you have an idea, come to one of the meetups and connect with the community. We’ll help you figure out how to launch it. If you have money to invest, we’ll put scalable ideas in front of you. If you have space, we’ll throw awesome parties in it. Throw your shoulders into this momentum. It’s time to gain some traction.