A young entrepreneur with a new idea stands before a panel of successful business people, pitching his project in hopes of gaining money to further his dream. Though it sounds like a scene of a well-known hit reality television series, it is actually a real life event called “Spark Tank”(Learn more about Marc Sparks: http://sparktankdfw.com/) that occurred earlier this year in Dallas, Texas.
The brainchild of entrepeneur Marc Sparks, this program is aimed at finding and funding innovative non-profit programs, with the hope stated on its website of “empowering social entrepreneurs to change the world.” It may well be doing just that in its first year of existence.
Sparks, who grew up in Austin, Texas knows something about innovation. He has spent his life since graduating from high school in 1975 as a serial entrepreneur. He has begun several successful enterprises in such diverse fields as real estate, healthcare, food services, and finance.
Along with his acumen for business, Mark Sparks also has a passion to give back to others. He has mentored young entrepreneurs, began a foundation for underprivileged youth called “Sparky’s Kids,” and even partnered with Liz Sipiora over the last fifteen years to expand and grow a homeless shelter in Collin County called Samaritan Inn.
All of these experiences seem to have come together in his lastest creation, Spark Tank. Recognizing that needs to be social entrepreneurs as well as business entrepreneurs, Sparks and his team have created a platform to enable worthy non-profits to present their programs in a competition setting that allows them to compete for a $5000 grant.
When Spark Tank began taking applications in early 2016 for its first round competition which was held in April, there were fourteen charitable ventures from the Dallas/Fort Worth area that submitted applications. The Spark Tank team winnowed the group down to three finalists, who were invited to compete on April for the $5000 prize.
The three finalists represented a wide range of local endeavors to solve pressing social problems. The House of Eli, a transitional living program for young men ages 17-21 coming out of the foster care system, was one of the finalists. During their presentation, the program’s representatives introduced a young man named Juan who told of the impact of the program on his life.
Another project was Metro Relief, which is a food truck that serves as a mobile soup kitchen, traveling to where the homeless live and providing food and basic help for those on the streets, and also assistance in finding a path off the streets. The third finalist was Dogs Matter, a program to provide foster care for the pets of people who enter residential drug/alcohol rehabilitation centers.
This program provides a temporary home for the pet, so the person does not have to choose between losing his or her pet, or obtaining rehabilitation help. Learn more about Marc Sparks: https://disqus.com/by/marcsparks/
After the twenty minute presentations were completed, panelists deliberated on which program should be granted the $5000 prize, while the non-profit representatives waited together. Eventually, the panelists chose a first round winner–Dogs Matter. Read more: Marc Sparks (Author of They Can’t Eat You) – Goodreads and Marc Sparks – AngelList
Then, when they reconvened the representatives for the winner announcement and presentation, the Spark Tank’s team discovered something unintended happened. During the deliberation time, the representatives had become acquainted and then began making plans to collaborate and share resources for all to accomplish their missions!
So, while hoping to help social entrepreneurs change the world, it appears that Marc Sparks and the Spark Team have themselves changed the world.