Naturally Smart Foods Founder Mark Patterson had already secured funding for his Jacksonville-based health food company and was already on his way to making it a success when he participated in the One Spark crowdfunding festival in April 2014.
Patterson had attended the first festival—which had drawn tens of thousands of attendees the previous year—and viewed the second installment as a possible springboard because of the exposure it offered. He nailed the jump.
“We were overwhelmed,” Patterson said. “We never expected to be that busy and we’ve been crashing it ever since.”
By the end of 2014, Naturally Smart Foods was selling its frozen desserts in 45 Northeast Florida stores, including more than two dozen Winn-Dixie locations. It was also branching out across the state.
Patterson projects “explosive growth” for 2015 and hopes to be within every major market in Florida by its end. “We’re talking to some really big people as we move forward,” he said.
Patterson credits One Spark for much of his company’s success. “We came to a more concrete vision of who our customer is and have been able to focus our marketing on that customer.”
“The biggest thing for small businesses at One Spark is the visibility and connecting with new customers,” One Spark spokeswoman Meredith O’Malley Johnson said. In fact, Stage 4 projects, which their creators defined as established organizations with new initiatives, accounted for 141 of the 609 projects, or 23 percent, at One Spark 2014.
“It’s a pretty inexpensive marketing tool for existing small businesses,” Johnson said. “The key is they need a strong marketing plan coming into the festival.”
Patterson was the third creator to sign up for last year’s festival, and he spent all of the first quarter preparing, including by researching venues. He also brought on interns from the University of North Florida to help him do social media and demonstrations.
Patterson had done many events on his own before One Spark but none had approached its magnitude. He knew that serving the large crowds he had witnessed at the first festival would be much different than handing out 100 samples in a couple of hours at a charity event or fundraising race.
In addition to having limited capacity in his freezer, he would need a seemingly endless supply of spoons and cups to share samples of his desserts. His planning paid off, however. He distributed more than 11,000 samples, totaling 134 gallons.
Patterson capitalized on the event’s media coverage as well, speaking with journalists whenever possible so as to get more exposure. He also made business contacts with whom he followed up.
“Right after One Spark we sat down, listed everything we had learned, every person we had met, every question that was asked that we didn’t have answers to and had a recap out of the gate so that we knew what we got out of it and what we needed to work on,” Patterson said.
Approached properly, One Spark can be a momentum builder for established local businesses like Naturally Smart Foods, given that 80 percent of attendees are from Jacksonville, Johnson said.
“It’s a chance for a small business to show off what they have,” Johnson said. “If you’re going to leverage One Spark and get everything you can out of it you need a plan for before, during and after to leverage everything it provides.”
In addition to exposure, One Spark offers creators opportunities to learn from and connect to other entrepreneurs. Its Creator Academy can be particularly useful for entrepreneurs seeking to grow their businesses, such as by teaching them how to refine their pitches. “One Spark is about all of these creative people coming together, meeting one another and coming up with new projects,” Johnson said.
Patterson credits One Spark with helping him to develop a better business. He hopes to help future creators capitalize on its potential as he did in growing Naturally Smart Foods.
“It should be a very intense experience where people work on their companies and learn where they lack,” he said. “You’re going to be in front of hundreds of thousands of potential customers, so it gives you a real good reflection of who you are, where you stand and what needs to be done.”