Online crowdfunding may be disrupting the world of finance but offline campaigning is playing an important part in the capital-raising revolution as well.
The World's Crowdfunding Festival tackles one of the biggest difficulties in crowdfunding: gathering the crowd. The aptly named One Spark festival, took place for a second year, on April 9 to 13, in Jacksonville, Fla., as a crowdfunding event dedicated to innovators. Creators with ideas in art, music, science and technology shared their projects in venues across a 20-block area of the city's downtown, hoping to collect votes and donations from the crowd. Each startup was able to be considered for an equity investment as well.
Launched last year with 406 projects, this year's effort showcased some 630 projects from around the world. The event offered $310,000 in guaranteed crowd funds, distributed to creators based on popular vote (of the crowd) as well as juried selections in each category, as well as $3.25 million in potential capital investment from participating venture firms. Individual attendees also could directly contribute to projects of their choice.
As occurs with online crowdfunding, One Spark saw those who engaged with the community and received notice had the biggest chance at success.
Last year during One Spark's launch, creator Pete Cochrane used pop-up concerts at downtown street corners to promote his new music app Aurora. His company also handed out 1,000 headsets with the corporate logo and QR code for music downloads. As a result his app attracted more than 10,000 downloads at that first festival and his venture won a spot among the top-30 creators. This led to an invitation to join an accelerator program and recent discussions about securing a significant round of investment.
“One of the best parts of One Spark is the real-world feedback," explained Pete Cochrane, co-founder of Aurora. "You are out there talking to the public every day during the event and these are the people to whom you will be selling. For them to be able to hold your product and be able to tell you what they like and don’t like was invaluable.”
Another participant during the even'ts launch, Menuat, found the in-person exchanges beneficial to company development. “We spoke to over 1,000 people; they interacted with our product and provided feedback and validation," said Emily Charette, a Menuat co-founder. "Pitching our story so frequently to the public allowed us to crystalize our message and make it really concise, which helped when we had to speak to investors later on.”
This year, in addition to sharing in the $310,000 prize pot, project creators who scored the most crowd votes in their project category, collected the highest number of individual donations from the public or impressed the jury of subject-matter experts also walked away with $10,000 in bonus funds.
The prizes this year went to projects ranging from a meat analyzer (allowing for proper cooking) to Neuroinitiative, an organization advancing Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease research through cutting-edge computer simulations and modeling.
Yes, project creators still have to aggressively promote their ventures, engage passersby and provide a compelling story to pitch. But these in-person crowdfunding events offer benefits not provided via online platforms: gathered crowds, a pool of dedicated dollars, an opportunity to interact live for immediate project feedback -- and good old-fashioned face-to-face schmoozing.
“There are so many ideas here that you would never have thought to create," said a participant at last week's event, Donteacia Seymore. "There are so many people here who are going to go on to produce great things with their products. And you can say, you know, I helped that person get to the next level; they were not able to do this without our votes, our donations or without us supporting them.” Added Seymore: "It’s a great feeling.”
Next up for One Spark? The concept is headed to Berlin this fall for the first One Spark festival outside the United States on Sept. 12 to 14.
“One Spark is a global platform for doers that has the potential to empower ideas anywhere, and One Spark Berlin adds a critical outside market validation component to everything we’ve built in Jacksonville,” said Elton Rivas, co-founder of One Spark. “If you want to launch ideas, generate traction in real time through crowdfunding and get connected to the funding needed to grow your idea, One Spark is the place to do it no matter where One Spark is.”