One Spark START: Berlin – a Good Base on Which to Build

By David Knight |

There has just about been enough time since One Spark START: Berlin drew to a close in the early hours of Sunday morning to draw some breath. Of course, the city stands still for no one, and in that time there has been other events, other meetings, other startups to write about.

But perhaps it’s worth looking back at the crowdfunding festival to try and judge, well, whether it worked.

Now first, a disclaimer: The managing director of One Spark Berlin is Travis Todd, a personal friend and fellow Silicon Allee co-founder; in addition, I spent the last week or two working with them on the final push for the event, and acted as compere onstage over its two days.

That meant being around the stage for pretty much the whole day on Saturday, however, and perhaps make me one of the best placed to judge the reception One Spark received.

Hoping to Attract Funding

One Spark takes the concept of crowdfunding one step further. In Berlin, 50 creators were displaying their projects in the hope of attracting funding from one of a number of sources: the crowdfund made available specifically for One Spark, individual contributions from attendees, jury-awarded prizes, a €10,000 Berlin Prize for the best local project, and a flock (gang? pack?) of professional VCs looking for a likely investment. All of the projects had a stall set up at the Platoon Kunsthalle venue on Saturday, and had a chance to pitch for three minutes from the main stage (music projects were given 15 minutes to play some tunes).

An important element of One Spark is that the event should be more than just a pitching showcase. Thus it’s dubbed a festival, with food, music, drinks, partying and a general laid-back attitude. It’s a format which has met with incredible success in One Spark’s home town of Jacksonville, Florida, where over a thousand projects have been seen by hundreds of thousands of people over its two-year existence.

Taking it not only to a new city, or even country, but a whole new continent, however, is another thing. Would anyone even turn up? The answer was a resounding yes – some 5,000 people at the main festival day on Saturday alone. From my spot by the stage directing the projects as they pitched (well, interrupting them when they ran over, mostly) it was interesting to see how the audience was made up of almost entirely new faces every 45 minutes or so. The venue was never so packed that you couldn’t move, but there was a steady flow of people right throughout the day.

In that respect, One Spark Berlin worked – as a free and ticket-less event, it was designed for people to just drop by for a bit, check it out, talk to some of the projects and then be on their way. And for the creators – especially the majority which didn’t win any prizes – this was perhaps the most important aspect; the chance to meet statistically significant (in relative terms) numbers of people who were interested in THEIR project. An opportunity for user feedback, networking and maybe a road to future investment.

Positive First Impressions

The opening ceremony on Friday evening, also at the Platoon Kunsthalle, was a hit as well, attracting around a thousand people. Even the speakers on Saturday morning – Amir Kassaei, chief creative officer at advertising agency DDB Worldwide, gave the opening keynote, followed by a German-language crowdfunding panel – were met by a full audience. And that was perhaps the biggest worry, whether people would drag themselves out of bed to listen to other people talk at them.

The media reaction in back in Jacksonville seems to have been cautiously optimistic – the Berlin event, after all, was tiny compared to its bigger Floridian brother. But it was all about setting the scene, promoting the concept, and seeing if it stuck. Only time will tell that, but first impressions seem positive.

And you can hardly compare Berlin to Jacksonville, in any case. The German capital has an awfully crowded tech and creative event scene within which One Spark must fight tooth and nail to make any noise; the same can presumably not be said for Jacksonville. Yet maybe, just maybe, when they return to Berlin next year – as One Spark co-founder Elton Rivas has promised they will – perhaps we will see attendee figures in the six figures and Wowi’s successor getting into the swing of things on stage.

The Big Winners

For the record, the most successful of the creatives – who came from countries including Germany, Poland, the US, Sweden, Chile, Israel and Argentina – were a band called Somebody Else, mobile furniture project Room in a Box, Webreife – a learning platform for Internet novices – and, an ecological toilet alternative for festivals (attendees could even try it out for themselves…). They received the most votes from attendees, and thus received the biggest shares of the crowdfund.

The juried prizes, meanwhile, were awarded in five categories, with the winners given €1,000 in cash and a trip to Florida for the next One Spark in April. Room in a Box picked up the gong in innovation, a documentary on tech innovation in Africa called Made in Africa won the art category,

the Berlin Music Campus did the same in music, a magazine for people with autism called N#MMER was the victor in science, and Talkitt – a platform to help speech-impaired people talk – won the technology gong.

And the Berlin Prize, courtesy of Projekt Zukunft, ERDF and Crowdfunding Berlin, saw grab the €10k.

All in all, One Spark START: Berlin was (from my biased viewpoint, in any case) a success, in that it has provided a decent foundation to build on for next year. And I wonder if they need a presenter in Florida in April…