Everyone’s been wondering what is going on with One Spark this year. Abel Harding has been involved since the beginning, first as a volunteer and now as a board member. A player in the downtown scene in general, we asked him to share his thoughts on the festival and its new direction.

What has One Spark provided Jacksonville?

It’s been a shot of energy for the city, a moment where we can all come together and believe in the city that we know to be and the city we hope to create. It provided a gathering space for visionaries, inventors and those who want more for themselves and the city as a whole. One of the byproducts of One Spark has been the positive press it’s produced for Jacksonville around the country.

What was the original mission or intent of One Spark? How has it changed over the years?

The original mission was to connect entrepreneurs with market validation and funding sources. I think it continues to evolve, but at the core, we have to retain the commitment to connect ideas with the necessary resources to help those ideas become successful realities. I think the organization went through growing pains similar to what many other start-ups go through. And that’s the irony, of course, a startup designed to help start-ups, but with a maturing process under much more public scrutiny.

What is the difference between the One Spark Festival and One Spark Ventures and how will they work together?

The festival will remain as a nonprofit entity. One Spark Ventures is a separate entity. It was created as a social purpose company, so its purpose under Florida law is to exist as a for-profit to provide for the social good of the community in which it operates. One Spark Ventures is developing criteria [to select the exhibitors for the festival] that will analyze the business, their idea, its marketability and its level of maturity as a business.

What will the new festival look like?

The First Wednesday Spark Walk will take place on April 6th and will provide interested Creators with a public opportunity to test out their ideas in the Jacksonville community.  The Creator Showcase will allow them to receive real market validation, which is an invaluable asset for those trying to launch a business.  April 7th will host the educational component, Creator Innovation Day, that will allow participants to access tools and knowledge necessary to take the next step, as well as learn more about resources available in our community to help them turn their idea into a reality.

Are you worried that One Spark’s momentum will get squelched this year?

One Spark 2016 will offer exciting opportunities for Creators. Along with the public event designed to provide Creators with real market validation, the Creator Innovation Day is a great opportunity for innovators to have access to tools, resources and knowledge they need to take the next step in launching their idea. Our focus is on Jacksonville, and that is why we are working hard to create the entrepreneurial ecosystem right here in Jacksonville.