Throughout history, the old folk story of Stone Soup has been told in multiple versions around the world.  It is a story set in a small village in Europe during a time of great famine.  People hoarded whatever food they could find, hid it from their friends and neighbors, and closed their doors in the faces of travelers passing through hoping to get a meal along the way.  On this occasion, the traveler offered to share stories of his journeys with the families of the village around an evening campfire in  exchange for a bit of food.  Everyone denied him—insisting they had no food for whatever reason—and suggested that he move on.  The traveler knew he was being lied to, but what was he to do?

With no other options, he devised a superb plan.  He pulled a huge cast iron pot from his wagon, and placed it over a fire he had built in the center of the town square.  After filling it with water, he pulled a velvet bag from his pocket and withdrew three small stones.  He then placed them in the water and began to stir the hot stone and water broth, sniffing the fumes with an anxious grin, and licking his lips.  The villagers could not help but be suspicious as they peaked through the cracks of their closed doors and shutters.  Finally, one villager dared to come out to take a closer look at what the traveler had been doing.  “Oh, do I love a good stone soup!” exclaimed the traveler.  He then addressed the villager directly, “Of course, stone soup with cabbage—now THAT’s hard to beat!  If you might happen to have any, I would be willing to share my stone soup with you.”  “My, my!” the villager replied. “I might just have a bit to spare.”

As the villager returned with a basket full of cabbage and dropped it into the pot, the other villagers began to come out to see what was going on.  One just so happened to have some carrots, and another salt & pepper.  Eventually, every villager ended up bringing something for the soup and was allowed to share.  Music began to erupt throughout the village as everyone feasted on stone soup, danced, and learned of all the elaborate adventures the traveler had experienced throughout his journeys.  For that one evening, as they celebrated, they had all forgotten about their hardships.Stone Soup

Although the traveler packed up and left the next morning without the villagers even realizing what had actually taken place the night before, the moral of the story is quite clear to us today: “If many of us contribute just a little, we can all reap a much greater reward.”  In fact, today, there are these organizations all over the world that are called “BarCamps”.  They serve as a thinking pot for people to discuss ideas and overcome obstacles with the help of one another.  We are not talking about “networking events” where business people typically attend in hopes to gain prospects for their business.  BarCamps are for people looking to proactively share their ideas and combine forces either through sponsorship, investment, mentorship, or to develop business for the betterment of the community.  They are normally sponsor driven and not for profit, or at least run like a non-profit organization.  And, although many BarCamps throughout the world are industry specific, BarCamp Sarasota-Bradenton is quite a rare entity thanks to two of its founding members who are continuing to “spark” things up in our community.

BarCamps serve as a thinking pot for people to discuss ideas and overcome obstacles with the help of one another.

Sara Hand and Stan Schultes are both published authors and professional speakers with years of  experience in business development.  A licensed counselor and revered business consultant, Sara is the “Visionary Leader” of this duo; while Stan, a computer engineer with a firm understanding of producing tangible products and results, is the proclaimed “Solution Architect”.  Together, they are Spark Growth LLC—a consulting firm that specializes in large and multi-organizational business and civic development.  They work with cities, counties, state wide agencies, and organizations such as Suncoast Technology Forum, Tampa Bay Partnership, and High Tech Corridor, to bridge the gap between the silos, research the needs of similar-interest organizations, and bring them together to pool resources and take their businesses to the next level.

With this perspective in mind, when Sara Hand and Stan Schultes decided to put together a BarCamp for this area, they quickly realized a divide between the many entrepreneurs wishing to develop business in this area, and the mentors and investors who might be interested in helping them succeed and better serve as an asset to this community.  Many have moved to this area from other places throughout the country, and although they may have retired from their businesses elsewhere, they are still interested in either mentoring another business or investing.  When they do, however, they have a tendency to invest back where they came from, as that is where their “trust network” resides.  The same is common for entrepreneurs coming to this area to establish business.  They rely upon investors from whence they came.

The unfortunate result is a crossing of paths, and it ends with a gap between investors and entrepreneurs where INvesting withIN the community doesn’t really amount to residents being VESTED in their community.  Sara captures the essence of this rare, entrepreneurial-orientated BarCamp Sarasota-Bradenton group by sincerely stating,

“We wanted to create a real community — a place where people acted like neighbors even though they didn’t live on the same street.”

They did just that!  BarCamp Sarasota-Bradenton is made up almost entirely of investors, mentors, entrepreneurs, and life-long-learners across various industries and disciplines, all sharing a common interest — THIS area’s community.  They have run two, 2-day “un-conference” events every year and attendance has been in the several hundreds each time. 

“We wanted to create a real community — a place where people acted like neighbors even though they didn’t live on the same street.” – Sara Hand

They have held Lunch & Learns each month for directed learning—strictly sponsor driven (no sales pitches) – and now have two evening social events per month as attendees were also interested in after-hours events.  They have run variety of community events, such as educational seminars that focused on what investors want, what entrepreneurs need, and recruiting resources for area high schools and universities.  They also have partner events with other organizations and holiday parties.

The group is well-established and continues to grow as a loosely organized community.  They communicate with one another through social media interfaces such as EventBrite, Meetup.com (mainly), Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram.  Communications are clustered, and although beneficial to those who have an opportunity to connect and prosper from shared interests, they wanted to further expand and truly grow this entire community and make a substantial impact, but had gone far beyond what BarCamp could normally do.

They realized they needed to do something more, something different.  “We need to build entrepreneurial capacity in this region,” stated Stan Schultes.  “We need to create a system that relies upon the skills and experience that currently reside here.  We need to harness that intellectual property if we are ever to create tangible results.”  So how do we do that?  How do we create a self-sustainable program for the entrepreneurial space?  Their answer was The Station 2 Innovation Center Project, and they have pooled all of the resources available to them, and committed themselves to this project for the past year—financing much of the startup out of their own pockets—quite a respectable risk and sacrifice to make for the betterment of this community!

“We need to create a system that relies upon the skills and experience that currently reside here.  We need to harness that intellectual property if we are ever to create tangible results.” – Stan Schultes

bradenton-firehouse-innovation-station-exterior

So if you recall, THEN, when the original stone soup was being formed, the setting had been in the courtyard of a European village.  NOW, the scene is set at the historic Station 2 Firehouse, located at 912 7th Ave East in Bradenton, and Spark Growth has moved in.  The interior space of “The Station” – so as not to be confused with the new Fire Station #2 down the street—is being completely redesigned to accommodate a combination of a traditional business incubator space with a co-working space.  The cast iron pot has been replaced with brick walls originally put up in the early 1900’s.  The water has been replaced with WiFi, air conditioning & heat, facilities such as kitchens and lockers, combined with a series of walls that are arranged in such a way that they provide everything from individual office spaces, to conference rooms, to open co-working, instructional, and presentation spaces, and even “the zone” – a completely separate area of the facility where absolute silence is a must.  The stone?  Well, that is now Spark Growth.

After sharing the original story of Stone Soup, a light came to her eyes with a gleaming smile on her face, as Sara Hand exclaimed, “You want to know what this is? This IS stone soup!”

This is not a place for people simply looking for a place to work….to just do their JOB and move on.  This has nothing to do with real estate or renting space.  It is a space for carrots, cabbage, meat, and all the good “fixin’s” that come in the form of various small, high-growth-potential businesses with owners who are open to coaching and new ideas while taking their business to the next level by utilizing the resources available through Spark Growth’s network and membership.  They are also looking for companies in need of co-working space who might particularly benefit from the cross-communication amongst other members—sharing knowledge, connections, and resources—and the wide array of different work spaces for multiple purposes.

“You want to know what this is? This IS stone soup!” – Sara Hand

bradenton-firehouse-innovation-station-interior

If you are not an entrepreneur looking to run a business, there are a multitude of other ways to become involved with this effort.  Spark Growth is also looking for philanthropic investors, as they do not own this facility.  As development partners with the City of Bradenton, The Manatee Community Foundation has a fund established for donations, and The Station is filing its own 501c3 Not-for-Profit Company.  One may also become a sponsor with an event-specific association such as TriNet, who has greatly contributed to the success of this program to this point.  If you are interested in becoming a Marketing Partner, you can have a presence in everything this program does and have first rights of refusal on different events.  There will also be openings for investments into the business incubator itself.  Would you like the boardroom to be in your name and be exposed to everyone who becomes associated with this project?  Or, perhaps you are a Technical Evangelist, Entrepreneurial Advocate, or Community Champion who might be interested in making a financial contribution of your own, helping to raise more funds, and taking a seat on the board.

For more specific information on how to become a member or contribute to this effort, contact Stan Schultes directly at 941-228-2006 or stan@sparkgrowth.me, and ENJOY THE SOUP!!