If you’ve been to the Downtown Mall lately, you may have noticed some new faces – on dozens of banners hanging from lampposts. These Tom Tom Founders Festival posters feature 18 local “founders” – Charlottesville innovators who have transformed their community and impacted the world through original research, business and service initiatives.
One of these “Thomas Jeffersons of today” created the world’s first at-home fertility test for men. Another invented a new approach to culturing human cells that may one day be the foundation for growing replacement human body parts.
These 18 founders – 12 of whom are University of Virginia faculty and/or alumni – will be recognized Friday evening at 6:30 with “Founding C’ville” awards, as the centerpiece of this year’s Tom Tom Founders Festival Fall Block Party at the McGuffey Art Center, located at 201 Second St. NW, just off the Downtown Mall.
“Founding C’ville talks about the Thomas Jeffersons of today,” festival director Paul Beyer said. “The act of founding transcends just having a good idea, because to realize that idea takes perseverance and teamwork. In that sense, Jefferson’s legacy as a revolutionary leader is more relevant than ever. The founders celebrated in this project show how Charlottesville’s extraordinary history sets the stage for an exceptional future.”
Friday’s block party will feature live music from three local bands; a Virginia Film Festival raffle; public art demonstrations and exhibits; a hip hop dance performance by the Charlottesville High School Step Team; and a “Moonlight Circus” of aerialist acrobats. A half-dozen local food trucks will serve up their specialties, with a nearby Craft Beer Garden featuring drafts from New Belgium and Wild Wolf breweries.
The Fall Festival is co-sponsored by several U.Va. divisions: U.Va. Arts; the i.Lab; the Batten Institute at the Darden School of Business; the Galant Center for Entrepreneurship at the McIntire School of Commerce; and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
The Tom Tom Founders Festival has also partnered with the Entrepreneurship Group at U.Va., and HackCville to host students from six colleges across Virginia for a “Startup Trip” to tour five thriving local startup companies.
The students – from American University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, James Madison University, George Mason University and U.Va. – will tour:
• WillowTree Apps, a strategy, design and development company focused on mobile Web design, named to the INC 500 list of the fastest-growing 500 companies in the country;
• Borrowed and Blue, a national wedding planning website;
• Vibethink, a local technologydriven creative agency;
• Apex Clean Energy, developer of billions of dollars of renewable energy projects across the U.S.;
• and Mudhouse Coffee, which started as a coffee cart and is now listed as one of the Top 10 coffee shops in the U.S., according to USA Today.
Following the tours, the students will attend the Tom Tom block party and participate in a mixer with staff from more than 30 local technology firms.
The next day, they will join student leaders from the Entrepreneurship Group at U.Va. and HackCville for the inaugural University Entrepreneurship Summit to discuss best practices for developing university entrepreneurship programs, organizations and initiatives.
“This trip is an opportunity to showcase Charlottesville’s thriving tech and innovation scene and to bring young and bright talent to Charlottesville,” said U.Va. third-year student Daniel Willson, the innovation programming coordinator for Tom Tom and one of the student leaders at HackCville, a “clubhouse and community for student entrepreneurship education” at U.Va., run jointly by students and alumni.
“It’s also an opportunity for student leaders to share best practices and collaborate in developing business, tech and entrepreneurship programs at their own universities.”
Willson, a computer science major in the College of Arts & Sciences, said he wants to start his own venture someday, probably in education technology.
The Tom Tom Founders Festival website includes an engaging profile of each “founder” to be recognized Friday, including seven U.Va. faculty members:
- John Herr, founder of Spermcheck, the world’s first at-home fertility test for men. Herr, professor of Cell Biology and Biomedical Engineering, and his team have named more than 30 genes in the human genome, and he has founded three local biotechnology companies: Humagen, ContraVac and, most recently, Neoantigenics. The latest effort promises a breakthrough in cancer diagnosis and treatment.
- Greg Fairchild, founder of the Prison Entrepreneurship Project, which provides entrepreneurship education for prisoners reentering society and financial literacy courses for victims of domestic violence. A Darden School of Business professor, he was named one of the Top Ten Business School Professors in the World by CNN/Fortune.
- Rob Vaughan, founder of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the largest humanities organization of its kind in the U.S. It is considered a national model, having raised over $160 million and sponsored 40,000 humanities programs throughout Virginia over the past 40 years.
- Marcia Invernizzi, co-founder of PALS, a literacy-screening tool used across the nation for early detection of reading difficulties and intervention with custom-tailored instruction. The Curry School of Education professor also founded the Book Buddies early reading program, used in 131 of Virginia’s 132 school divisions.
- Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Benton Calhoun, co-founder of PsiKick, maker of battery-less wireless sensors that require such low power they can power themselves by harvesting ambient light, human body heat or vibrations. Being 100 to 1,000 times more efficient than anything comparable, they are poised to play a major role in the coming technology revolution being called the “Internet of Things.”
- Robin Felder, founder of Global Cell Solutions, a new approach to culturing human cells that may one day be the foundation for growing replacement human body parts. Over his career with the School of Medicine, he has created nine companies and won more than $40 million of federal research grants.
- Dr. Marcus Martin, founder of U.Va.’s Emergency Medicine Center for Education, Research and Technology, which has revolutionized emergency medicine training with computerized patient care simulations, eliminating the need to train on live animals. As U.Va.’s vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, Martin founded IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access), a diversity-focused alumni group that helped establish the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, which Martin co-chairs.
The “Founding C’ville” award winners also include five U.Va. alumni:
- Bill Crutchfield, founder of Crutchfield, an electronics store with annual revenues of $230 million built on a “visionary approach to educating consumers,” as the citation notes.
- Matt Hantzmon, co-founder of HelioSage Energy, a solar firm currently developing and constructing more than $750 million of solar energy facilities in 20 U.S. states.
- Wendy Brown, co-founder of the Community Investment Collaborative and the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, resources for would-be founders and entrepreneurs locally and around the country.
- Kate Collier, co-founder of the Local Food Hub, which aggregates produce from small local farms to enable sales to big kitchens like the U.Va. Medical Center, more than 50 schools in Virginia and countless restaurants.
- Spencer Ingram, co-founder of HackCville, a clubhouse and community for student entrepreneurship education at U.Va., run jointly by students and alumni.
Calhoun, Invernizzi and Vaughn are all alumni of U.Va. as well as being faculty members.
The Downtown Mall lamppost banners recognizing these “C’ville Founders” will remain on display through the end of September.