In 2015 I entered into my 3rd and final OneSpark competition. OneSpark was typically held once a year in April and spanned as much as a week from Monday till Sunday. In the years prior I didn’t feel like I had performed as well as I’d liked in part because of the venues I had gotten matched up with. The first year I was lucky enough to get secluded on a barren seventh floor of the Suntrust building downtown. The second year the best venue I could get was main street park (where all the homeless people go to sleep) which is conveniently located on the opposite side of the library from hemming park (the epicenter) so naturally there was little foot traffic. So for my 3rd try at OneSpark there was an option to have a mobile venue instead of a specific location which I suppose was more intended for performing acts however I took it as an open license to setup where I wanted.
I found someone on craigslist selling some really nice metal and wood rolling retail carts so I bought two of them, and specially designed some banners to fit them. You’re allowed to sell at OneSpark so I ordered tons of little things to fill my cart to sell for fund raising. I told my parents, and my dad planned to visit and help out from Palm Beach. I contracted a friend I went to high school with to come be my PR person for the event.
Before OneSpark even started an investor had already heard of me through my friend in Palm Beach. In one of the bars my friend frequented she casually mentioned to someone that she was going to be out of town in Jacksonville for OneSpark to help out my solar panel project, seemingly intrigued in the event and the project, the man at the bar offered to fly my friend and himself to Jacksonville to meet me.
On the first day of the event I was able to find a spot in front of the church near hemming park in a high traffic, high visibility area. So I snuck in, and secured my spot. I don’t think anyone knew I probably wasn’t supposed to be there. I set up my displays and rolled out my solar panels and it became clear that I was much better prepared this year than in years past. My friend texts me that she’s flying into town unexpectedly with an investor who wants to meet me that night. She sends me his resume and information for me to study about him before he arrives. We planned to meet that night after OneSpark in the Volstead. I’m there in the lobby waiting and still reading his resume on my phone when he walks in, an older balding man who resembled Benjamin Franklin. We awkwardly greet each other and get a drink and immediately we begin talking about the event, and the solar panels. I show him one of the prototypes I produced and he becomes moderately impressed with its construction.
It’s getting late so we start looking for places to get dinner, I tried taking them to Chomp Chomp but they were closed so we settled on Burrito Gallery instead and found a table on the patio out back. There’s a dark sky with light grey clouds lit from the light pollution with some moonlight and the Jacksonville skyline in the background as we sit down to talk. At this point the entire meeting has gone really well, he genuinely seems interested in my project and what I’m working on seems to fit what his interests are. My friend warned me that this guy normally had a tactic of asking something as a “gotcha question” so he started asking me about this supposed computer that archeologists found in a ship wreck that was called the “Anti-kythera” he asked me something like if I understood how it could work, or if we were just reinventing the “Anti-kythera” with modern computers, which I argued that we weren’t. We walk to the Hyatt for him to retire for the night since he planned on getting a flight out to New York the next day. On the way while stopped at a crosswalk he points to a bush and says “I could just sleep right there for the night.” And we laugh.
I return home late around 1-2AM and have a talk to my mom for a while about, “what should I ask for” and we ended up coming to the conclusion that for my business manufacturing solar panels I’d need close to $1 Million.
The next morning we planned on meeting early before OneSpark started and before he left for his flight so we could talk some more about my project and his projects. I show up to the Hyatt lobby, I call and get no response so I sit in the dining room and get started on breakfast. They show up a bit late and we start talking about his projects, and his companies, and he starts asking me if I want to be a part of these projects. I was interested, I could’ve helped on his projects but that was different than investing my company. We agreed to meet up after the event in New York. He left for the airport and he left my friend with his really nice Nissan model Z rental for the rest of the week.
She came back from dropping him off at the airport and we were both really excited. It felt like something was happening, like there was some real potential. We spent the rest of the day hustling, getting votes for our project at OneSpark. We packed up for the night and got ready to head home when my friend realized the parking garage she parked in closed early and she wouldn’t be able to get the car out until tomorrow.
The next day we got out to OneSpark and started setting up when my friend decides to move the rental car to another garage that closes later. Only that she put the keys for the car in with the rest of the stuff for our project for the night that we locked up in the church. She couldn’t find the keys for the rental car. She had to spend the rest of the week looking for the keys, and then after accepting she lost them, she had to file a police report, try to get replacement keys, etc.
We finally get near the end of the week and my solar project has done really well, lots of good feedback from people, and great feedback from the judges. My friend is now desperate to resolve the whole issue with this rental car, but it turns out that the only way to get a replacement key is from the rental car company, and they won’t replace it unless the person on the rental agreement signs off on it. The only person on the agreement is our investor friend. On one of the last days of OneSpark 2015 I remember us pulling over to a CVS parking lot and hearing her awkwardly calling the investor’s assistant to break the news to him, and to get him to sign off on getting a new key for the car. They didn’t have a key so they had to tow the car away.
Sunday was the final day for One Spark and I got chosen by the Judges to be one of the top 3 projects for the technology category which I was very proud of considering the 500+ creators and projects that participated in OneSpark. You had to do a final pitch as one of the nominees in front of a large audience. The final pitches were supposed to be on the hemming park stage but it started raining so everyone moved to the stage inside the museum of contemporary art. Competing against me for the technology category are two other companies, one is an app that the creator’s described as “hotwire for restaurants” which tried to make deals with restaurants during their normal downtimes between lunch and dinner, and the other company had designed patent pending, quicker to replace trash bags. I walked into this feeling like my company, my project, my solar panels would be a shoe-in for the technology category, I was wrong. When we attended the awards ceremony the judges announced that the company making slightly improved trash bags would win the $20,000 award, beating out the company that designed more efficient and versatile solar panels. There were no runner-up awards for the other two spots in the technology category. I was visibly disappointed and stormed out of the awards ceremony. In all, I sunk more money into OneSpark than I got out of it. I got about $200 from the popular vote, which I wasn’t counting on, and $0 from the OneSpark investment group, and $0 from the technology category. This sucked, but it felt like it didn’t matter because I still had a connection with the investor I met.
After about a month had passed we arranged for me to fly up after work on Friday one weekend to New York.