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- 2014 - March - 27th -
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Florida Next innovation incubator curates large venue for One Spark

By Carter Roush, University of North Florida

The opportunities One Spark offers small businesses and entrepreneurs help support an innovative Florida economy.

As such, One Spark has received the support of one of the state’s innovation incubators.

“This (One Spark) is huge for Florida,” said Florida Next Foundation President Ned Pope. “It’s an opportunity to differentiate ourselves as a state that embraces innovation of all kind.”

Pope, in Jacksonville last week for One Spark’s announcement of its expansion to Berlin, will be curating a venue through Tampa-based Florida Next for One Spark. The foundation’s venue of 30-plus creators will span the sixth floor of the SunTrust building.

Florida Next is one of six curators who, unlike most other venues, do not own or rent the physical space but have stepped forward to organize a group of creators, mapping out the location and overseeing the venue. Most curators have selected creators who dovetail with their interests.

The foundation is a nonprofit organization that focuses on inspiring a creative, progressive group of business leaders in the state.

The Tampa-based group was founded in 2011 with the goal of stimulating Florida’s job growth in the entrepreneurial sector, along with encouraging development of the small business economy.

And that sector of the state’s business community isn’t small. According to a study conducted in 2009 by the Small Business Administration, there was a total of 2 million small businesses in Florida, which accounted for 98.9 percent of employers and created 2.9 million jobs

Florida Next organizers hope to boost those numbers even more by working with innovative businesses, such as the technology industry. This way the foundation can help support economic growth that can produce thousands of jobs, Pope said.

One of the ways of doing that is through taking part in ventures such as One Spark.

The Florida Next Foundation’s venue will be overseeing a variety of innovative products and technology creators, as well as non-profit social enterprise ventures, Pope said.

“We’re trying to take on the responsibility to get the exposure they need to grow their companies,” Pope said.

Several of the creators supported by the Florida Next Foundation were discovered through the organization’s own sponsored programs, such as their Impact Forums. These forums are designed to give entrepreneurs an opportunity to gain support for their ideas by presenting and discussing their proposals in a group setting.

One of the creators that will be featured at the Florida Next Foundation’s venue is The ARTery, which gained recognition through an Impact Forum hosted at UNF.

The ARTery is a collaborative nonprofit art organization consisting of The Art League of Jacksonville Inc., The Art Center Cooperative and the Performers Academy, executive director of The Art League of Jacksonville Craig Erskine said.

By renovating the Old Duval County Armory and turning it into a creative arts center, ARTery organizers plan to offer art programs, concerts and performances to the Jacksonville community, Erskine said.

Creating an institution dedicated to the arts would create an opportunity for local artists and performers to have a place to express their talents and skills, Erskine said.

There isn’t a public institution dedicated to the arts in about 200 miles, Erskine said.

By using One Spark as a platform to engage large crowds and businesses, Pope said he wants to attract more businesses to Florida while embracing the small businesses already established in the state.

As part of its involvement in One Spark, Florida Next is also planning private events for three of Jacksonville’s major civic groups — Bold City Brigade, PB and J and World Class Jax — at the venue in the SunTrust building during One Spark.

“One Spark is right within our mission,” Pope said. “This is the type of stuff we should be bringing in our state.”

Carter Roush is a University of North Florida student who is a member of Ignite Media Jax, an independent news agency covering the One Spark crowdfunding festival.

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