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U.Va. at Heart of Tom Tom Founders Festival, Starts April 10th

The Tom Tom Founders Festival, a South-By-Southwest-inspired festival of innovation that starts Thursday, is being presented in partnership with the University of Virginia. Much of the festival has a U.Va. connection, including the kickoff and closing events.

The packed four days begin Thursday evening with a community business-plan pitch night, part of the official reopening of the W.L. Lyons Brown III Innovation Lab, or i.Lab, which has been expanded and renovated to better serve all 11 of the University’s schools along with the Charlottesville community.

The “U.Pitch. C’ville Decides” event will emulate angel funding competitions, but with a twist: winners will be selected by the crowd, rather than angel investors. The 10 local start-ups competing range from an Internet sports TV platform, to a GPS-enabled mobile phone app for student safety, to a school garden project in the local schools. The winner will be offered a slot in this year’s i.Lab incubator class, and the Batten Institute at U.Va.’s Darden School of Business will award $10,000 in cash prizes for the top three pitches.

“The Tom Tom Festival will showcase some of U.Va.’s most exciting research and scholars from all disciplines alongside those locally who are making an impact, often nationally,” said Batten Institute executive director Mike Lenox, a Darden professor. “It’s exactly the type of community event that fosters better collaboration across Grounds and beyond and makes this area a more appealing place to start and build businesses.”

The festival will conclude Sunday evening with the semifinal round of the $250,000 Galant Challenge, sponsored by the Galant Center for Entrepreneurship at U.Va.’s McIntire School of Commerce. Ten U.Va. students will compete to be among the three finalists who will get to pitch their business plans on April 25 to early-stage investors ready to invest up to $250,000 in equity seed financing. The audience will select one of the three finalists.

“The Tom Tom Founders Festival makes visible our local innovation-based culture,” said Tom Skalak, U.Va.’s vice president for research. “U.Va. shares the festival’s vision to imagine and create the future.”

TED-style “Tom Talks” at The Haven on Saturday and Sunday, presented in partnership with U.Va. Innovation, will feature more than a dozen U.Va. faculty – including U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan – sharing how their work is impacting the world. Sullivan’s talk is titled “A Culture of Leadership: Leadership Styles and How a Culture of Leadership Strengthens an Organization.” (More U.Va. speaker highlights below.)

The Tom Talks also will feature local innovators like Rick Hamilton, IBM’s all-time leading patent holder; Oliver Kuttner, inventor of the Edison 2 superlight car that won the $5 million X-Prize for the first car to achieve 100 miles per gallon fuel efficiency; and Sandy Reisky, the founder of Apex Wind Energy, who has developed over $1 billion of wind and solar energy facilities around the country.

“The Tom Talks give us an opportunity to showcase some of U.Va.’s most exciting ideas and innovators and to share these opportunities for value creation with the Charlottesville community,” said Mark Crowell, executive director of U.Va. Innovation and associate vice president for research.

An “Austin vs. Aspen vs. Arlington” debate will consider lessons from the development of those cities (in Texas, Colorado and Virginia, respectively) for Charlottesville’s future.

The festival will premier two documentaries about Charlottesville innovators, said Jody Kielbasa, vice provost for the arts and director of the Virginia Film Festival. Autopilots” is about Perrone Robotics founder Paul Perrone and his driverless robotic car, built with help from the U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science, which competed in the 2005 and 2007 Grand Challenges sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Perrone is one of several U.Va. alumni who will be speaking at the festival.

The Batten Institute, U.Va. Innovation and the Office of the Vice President for Research are major event sponsors, while OpenGrounds, the Curry School of Education, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection and WTJU are among the 45-plus festival partners.

While last year’s inaugural event was a monthlong music festival with 80 musical acts, this year the emphasis has shifted to a packed four-day innovation festival, with music and movies playing a supporting role.

“The rock stars this year are the innovators in Charlottesville,” said festival director Paul Beyer, a Charlottesville native who studied film at New York University and ran for Charlottesville City Council in 2011.

The festival is inspired by Austin’s renowned South-by-Southwest Festival and aims to achieve similar benefits: to draw major attention and energy to the creative, entrepreneurial and innovative endeavors in Charlottesville, and brand the city as an innovation hotspot, Beyer said.

Full festival schedule and details available at www.tomtomfest.com.

The Tom Talks will feature U.Va. faculty including:

  • Bob Pianta, dean of U.Va.’s Curry School of Education, who studies how to improve teacher performance
  • Dr. Neal Kassell, a neurosurgeon and creator of cutting-edge noninvasive ultrasound brain surgery
  • Tibetan and Buddhist studies professor David Germano, a leader of U.Va.’s new Contemplative Sciences Center as well as U.Va.’s SHANTI (Sciences, Humanities, and the Arts Network of technological initiatives)
  • Darden School professor Greg Fairchild, an expert on entrepreneurship in disadvantaged communities, named one of the top 10 business professors worldwide
  • Physics professor Lou Bloomfield, an award-winning teacher of “How Things Work,” now a MOOC (massive open online course), and inventor of Vistik, a unique silicone rubber with applications in everything from shoe insoles to packaging.
  • Media studies professor Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of “The Googlization of Everything and Why We Should Worry”  
  • Biomedical engineer Dr. Shayn Peirce-Cottler, who develops adult stem cell therapies for treating heart disease and complications of diabetes.
  • Law professor Brandon Garrett, a leading authority on wrongful convictions and DNA-related exonerations
  • Paul C. Harris, a Curry School professor studying how school counselors can facilitate educational success in black males, particularly those participating in sports.

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