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Florida's One Spark Crowdfunding Festival Sparks a Fire

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If you haven't heard of One Spark yet, something tells me you soon will.

"The world's first crowdfunding festival," as it's known, started in Jacksonville, Fla., last year and had a decent go of it in 2013. It's a simple, yet powerful concept -- present an edgy yet fun festival atmosphere that also connects innovative startups with venture capital. Attendees simply download an app, roam around and soak in the ambiance, and vote on the "creator" projects they like most. From artists and bands to interesting tech ideas, top vote-getters hustled on the streets and at their vendor booths to grab the lion's share of funding in the One Spark kitty. Investors have ponied up in the millions, and competition is fierce for the money up for grabs.

Attendance last year was strong, but this is the year that One Spark officially blew up. An estimated 260,000 people packed Jacksonville's urban core over the five-day event. For a city that has struggled to get anything at all truly going downtown, it was an exhilarating sight to see.

I knew something special was in the air when we headed downtown for One Spark Saturday, packed onto Jacksonville's much-maligned Skyway railway service. Normally it's practically riderless. But as the throngs headed downtown, the Skyway finally felt like riding the rails is supposed to- jammed, bustling, like a subway ride in New York or an El hop in Chicago. And instead of sullen straphangers, people were smiling. Talking. Laughing at the simple excitement of a packed Skyway train!

One Spark is now going global, with a satellite event event planned this fall for Berlin.

But the festival will always have its home base in Jacksonville, says founder Elton Rivas, who, with a few smart friends, has changed the game in the River City. "We were tired of hearing that we had to move away from Jacksonville to do something cool," Rivas said. "So we decided to make it happen here."

I for one am glad he did.

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