OneSpark founder Elton Rivas.

Now in its third year, the OneSpark festival highlights entrepreneurial projects in both a juried competition and a popular vote by attendees in what is touted as the “world’s biggest crowdfunding festival.” There will be 555 official OneSpark creator projects this year when it runs from April 7 through 12 in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, and sees an expected 275,000 attendees.

While the number of projects is slightly lower than last year, OneSpark officials focused on increasing the creator projects that come from outside the immediate area. A total of 29 percent of the projects are from outside Duval County. Some of the creators come from as far away as New York City, Chicago, and Palo Alto, California.

Technology is the area of specialty that saw the biggest increase. There will be 127 projects in the technology field this year, up from the 2014 figure of 88.

Related: Crowdfunding a New Urban Identity | OneSpark Doubles Down in Second Year

Urban Land spoke with the founder, Elton Rivas, by phone.

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One of the winning creators at the 2014 OneSpark Festival is presented with a check.

 

What are some of the changes people may notice about this year’s OneSpark?

We have more creators from outside the northeast Florida market. The second area of focus is on technology, which saw a 44 percent increase. Those two pieces were critical.

What kind of attendance are you expecting after doubling in size to 260,000 attendees last year?

If you look at the ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which now has over 1,000 artists presenting, the second year it ballooned, and the third year it normalized.

But you are also trying smaller versions of OneSpark, like what you did in Berlin last fall?

Akin to TEDX [a scaled-down version of the main TED conference], the first OneSpark Start in Berlin allows us to focus a lot more on the intimacy of connections. But the big takeaway was that the in-person crowdfunding does add value compared to just doing it online anonymously.

But you are also allowing more conventional online crowdfunding as well?

This year, we invested heavily in technology, true crowdfunding for 30 days. They can offer rewards like on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

How does the crowdfunding help these entrepreneurs access funds like a venture capital fund or an initial public offering?

Most startups go through three phases. OneSpark is unique in that it helps people in all three of those phases. In the first stage, where all you have is a concept and yourself, things like market feedback and finding people for your startup, the in-person voting and feedback [represent] a huge piece of the puzzle. In the second stage, I’ve got a project I want to carry forward—that’s where crowdfunding starts to come into play. In the third stage, I’ve got a product, some intellectual property, maybe a few employees, but I need more capital. So this year there is $3.5 million that is pledged from both repeat and new investors, and that’s just what’s pledged; it could be more.

In addition to the jury and the voting, we have an event called OneSpark Venture Vault, which is similar to the concept of the TV show Shark Tank. [Venture capital firms] are looking to do deals, but it’s not open to public audience. Over the past two years, we’ve had $4.25 million pledged, and about two-thirds of that has been invested that’s been disclosed to us.

How do you see OneSpark as a different entity from something like South by Southwest?

There are three kinds of festivals that are out there. The most similar [to OneSpark] is probably ArtPrize, which has jurors and people vote. South by Southwest is longer in duration, but at its core it is a ticketed conference on a number of different topics, but there is some similarity in that it covers a variety of different disciplines. TED is more about sharing ideas.

We do have some ticketed events, for under $100, specifically a speaker summit that includes former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. And we pulled that out as an extra day so that the creators can also attend.

OneSpark is the end result of bringing together all these disparate entities, whether it’s coworking spaces or music venues. Building bridges between unique groups—the festival is just the culmination of that work throughout the year.

Are those who don’t attend the festival also permitted to support projects highlighted at the festival?

Last year, we tested the ability for people to contribute outside of the festival, but now they can contribute for 30 days. But to vote you have to be here in person—that’s partially by vote and partially by jury selection.

What was your experience like with a smaller gathering in Berlin?

Akin to TEDX, the OneSpark Start event in Berlin allowed us to focus a lot more on the intimacy of connections. The big takeaway was that the in-person crowdfunding can be really powerful.

Is OneSpark planning to go to other cities as they did with Berlin last year?

Stay tuned as that is definitely part of the road map.

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