One Spark moving forward amid shakeup

Chairman: Changes will either be blemish or footnote for organization

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One Spark's struggles have led to a top-down shakeup that included the resignations this week of the organization's CEO and co-founder Elton Rivas, an influential board member and several staffers.

Those changes could become a black eye for the World's Largest Crowdfunding Festival, board chairman Peter Rummell admitted Tuesday.

“If we screw up, yeah,” Rummell said. “But if we do what we want to do, which is grow and be positive and change and create the next version of One Spark, then this is just a footnote."

There had been rumblings that Rivas' resignation had been requested by the board.

Rivas told News4Jax on Tuesday that he shared a memo last week with the board about a plan of action for One Spark Inc. He said that he met with Rummell and another board member the next day and “there was acknowledgment that we weren’t in alignment and it was apparent it was time for us to go in different directions.”

Rivas said he chose to resign.

“I wish nothing but the best for the future of the new company and for the entrepreneurs that it plans to support,” Rivas said. “The creators, volunteers, sponsors, stakeholders and past and present employees deserve all the credit for bringing One Spark to life.”

Board member Rena Coughlin, CEO of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida, and two staffers followed Rivas out the door.

Rummell, the event's biggest investor, said this is a turning point for the annual crowdfunding festival and that 2016 is a make-or-break year.

“I've been in business 45 years and the hardest part about change is not figuring it out, it's doing it,” Rummell said. “The next four years are not like the last four.”

The Jacksonville crowdfunding festival grew quickly in its first three years, with attendance jumping from 130,000 the first year to 320,000 last year. Prize money has increased, as have potential capital investment funding and sponsorships.

At the first One Spark, FreshJax, a lifestyle facility to bridge healthy eating and exercise through yoga, came in eighth place overall and walked away with a $3,000 check.

“It's an excellent event,” said Jason McDonald of FreshJax. “It really helped us launch our company and we hope it will do the same for others.”

Despite success stories and high attendance, the nonprofit has struggled financially, according to tax documents. One Spark reported deficits of about $200,000 from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, and more than $1 million July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014.

“Our goal is to put a strategy in place that grows the event and we don't lose that kind of money,” Rummell said.

To that end, an event Tuesday highlighted the newly created One Spark Ventures, which is designed to evolve the annual event into a vehicle for long-term success for creators and to better connect creators with resources in the community. One Spark Ventures is aimed at making money year round.

“We lost a lot of money in 2015, and we lost money in 2014,” Rummell said. “We can't keep doing that."
McDonald said as a businessman, the changes make financial sense.

“There's a lot of money going out to entrepreneurs and for the most part, from what I gather, Peter Rummell has donated a ton of money, and we were getting checks for very small portions of that donation, so what's next?” McDonald said.

One Spark will have several significant changes to its format this year, including a jury selection process for its creators, which is designed to improve the quality and likelihood of success for creator projects. The jury will select the top 50 creator applicants to showcase in each district, which will be announced on Feb. 24.

The festival has also been reduced to three days, running April 7-9. But it's possible those dates could change.

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