The timing was right for One Spark. The setting — Jacksonville — was right too. So were the people who dreamed up One Spark, and those who came to support its mission.


To festival co-founder Varick Rosete, the idea is simple: It’s about creating the kind of city that you want. Rather than moving to Brooklyn or Austin or Portland or any of the other usual suspects on the “best places” lists, why not make it in Jacksonville?

The festival worked, he said, because enough people bought into that idea.

“I think people are tired of the idea of having to go someplace else,” he said. “It’s your home — make it what you want it to be.”

The youth of the festival founders — all three are in their 30s — helped make the festival a success in 2013, its first year, said Wayne Wood. He’s a longtime civic leader who is a founder of the Riverside Art Market and part of a new group trying to revamp Hemming Plaza.

“They’re tech-savvy and able to do things on a global scale with much greater facility than us old folks. Also they’re fresh, they have enthusiasm, they’re born with the idea that everything’s possible,” he said. “When you look at the people who populate downtown after hours and on weekends, it’s the same generation.”

Wood sees One Spark, a celebration of all things entrepreneurial and creative, as a sign that Jacksonville is seeing some real homegrown change.

“One Spark is core to that, but also a symptom of it,” he said. “The younger generation has caught on to the idea that the city is a palette to be painted, a crucible in which to concoct something new and special.”

One Spark’s founders Rosete, 39; Dennis Eusebio,32, and Elton Rivas, 33, talk of a “critical mass of leadership” that’s been achieved in the city. It’s not just One Spark: It’s places such as the CoRK Arts District and Riverside Art Market, the new music venues and talented bands, the adventurous restaurants and new breweries. Just for a start.

Stir all that together — along with some big-pocket financial backers — and things can happen quickly, Eusebio said during an interview, his laptop open before him.

“That leads to changes, to chain effects that tend to be exponential, not linear, if you want to get all nerdy and mathy.”

Their message is being heard. A recent CNN headline trumpeted that “Jacksonville is hot for startups.” The web site named Jacksonville the top city in the country in which to start a business.

One Spark’s founders are also partners in KYN, a business accelerator downtown. Their company tries to connect promising new businesses with those who can help provide the money and expertise to make them succeed — much as One Spark does.

The festival runs Wednesday through Sunday in the downtown. It’s the second year for One Spark, which will expand to Berlin this fall and probably beyond in years to come.

Rosete, Eusebio and Rivas say the city has been supportive. Group such as the Jacksonville Civic Council has been supportive. Big-time financial backers such as businessman Peter Rummell and Jaguars owner Shad Khan have been supportive — there’s no way the festival could have worked without the support of big-pocket boosters.

“It can’t be just a bunch of entrepreneurs staring at each other,” said Don Capener, dean of Jacksonville University’s Davis College of Business.

Still, he said, Jacksonville’s larger and more established industries have a vested interest in supporting the startup community, much of it youngish, much of it tech-oriented. A healthy entrepreneurial culture complements those older businesses, he said.

“One Spark has hit on the imagination and enthusiasm that we all have for Northeast Florida,” Capener said, “and it’s exciting that it represents the thought that, hey, we can be more than a call-center hub or back-office hub or sompleace to retrofit used or out-of-service aircraft — that we can be the place where some of this stuff is actually created.”

Capener said the festival’s setting downtown is crucial to what success it’s had or will have in the future.

“Downtown sparks the imagination of young people,” he said. “Especially the creative community. I used to run an ad agency, and people want to be able to roller-skate down the hall. They don’t want to dress in a suit and tie. They want to express themselves in a way you don’t see outside of urban areas.”


Matt Soergel: (904) 359-4082

One Spark