Nearly two centuries years ago, Thomas Jefferson began building a new enclave of knowledge in Charlottesville. As the founding father’s 273rd birthday approaches, his hometown continues to celebrate its never-ending thirst for big ideas with the fifth annual Tom Tom Founders Festival.
Presented in collaboration with the University of Virginia, the weeklong festival is designed to inspire and empower founders of creative, civic and entrepreneurial projects. Tom Tom 2016 runs from April 11 to 17 and features 30 dynamic events, including start-up pitch competitions, outdoor concerts, cook-offs and public art installations.
Many of these events were designed and organized by the dedicated team of UVA students serving as Tom Tom Fellows this year. The University sponsored 13 fellowships in 2016, giving participating students a chance to gain real-world experience in marketing, strategy, networking, event planning and day-of production.
“By working with Tom Tom, students engage in a venture and all the normal challenges it faces. Each year, they help define and redefine what the festival will be,” said David Touve, an assistant professor in the McIntire School of Commerce and adviser to the Tom Tom Fellowship program. Touve directs the Galant Center for Entrepreneurship, which provides student entrepreneurs with special access to festival events through the Tom Tom Scholars program.
As the Tom Tom fellows work behind the scenes, many other students and a great number of UVA alumni are taking center stage at signature festival events. The largest of these is the Tom Tom Founders Summit, an all-day event on April 15 where some of the country’s top innovators share the stories of their success.
“The Founders Summit is Virginia’s premier entrepreneurship conference,” festival director Paul Beyer said. “It takes a broad look at founding, and the insights that artists, entrepreneurs and civic leaders glean from starting and growing new ideas. The summit’s comprehensive approach to founding truly is Jeffersonian in spirit and aligns with the multidisciplinary leadership of the University.”
Headliners at this year’s summit include alumni who are changing the ways their industries do business. Among them are revolutionary fashion designer Becca McCharen, 2006 graduate of the School of Architecture; McIntire School of Commerce alumnus Bill Crutchfield, founder of the $250 million-per-year Crutchfield consumer electronics company; and Sam Rosen, another McIntire alumnus who is the founder and CEO of the on-demand storage company MakeSpace.Youth Summit on April 14. A combined team of UVA students from the Curry School of Education, the College of Arts & Sciences and the McIntire School of Commerce hatched the idea as a way to inspire entrepreneurial thinking and creative problem-solving among high school students.
“The speakers we’re bringing in are meant to show high school-age students that they can have an idea to make a business or make a plan for the community that can really change things. We want them to have a sense of agency,” said second-year College student Jared Jones, who worked with other undergraduate facilitators to recruit area high school students for the summit’s student advisory council. With the help of their UVA facilitators, these students selected the summit’s speakers and the topics they wanted to cover.
Youth Summit keynote speakers include UVA second-year and successful jewelry entrepreneur Leilei Secor, acclaimed education advocate and author Nikhil Goyal and Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe will also make an appearance and will sign the commonwealth’s new youth entrepreneurship bill into law. House Bill 1230 requires the boards of visitors at state-supported higher education institutions to adopt policies supporting the intellectual property rights of their students.
Prior to the Youth Summit, locals and visitors of all ages can get a taste of UVA innovation at the University’s Public Days Showcase on April 11. More than 60 undergraduate and graduate students across disciplines will converge on the Lawn to display and share their research projects from 3 to 5 p.m.
“We really hope people walk away understanding that there are so many great types of scholarship, research and creative works being done by our students,” said Archie Holmes, UVA’s vice provost for educational innovation and interdisciplinary studies.
Festival-goers will have a second opportunity to view a select number of student projects displayed in the Paramount Theater on April 13, prior to the Innovator of the Year Award ceremony. Public Days projects will also travel to Jefferson Madison Regional Library at Northside, UVA libraries and Charlottesville High School throughout the month of April.
In addition to the Public Days Showcases and both summits, numerous festival events will carry the unique footprints of UVA research and innovation. Attendees can even get an exclusive look at how new research is translating onto the field for Cavalier athletes during an “Innovations in Athletics Panel” on April 14. There, they’ll hear from head football coach Bronco Mendenhall, UVA alumnus and New England Patriots defensive end Chris Long, and UVA’s record-setting field hockey head coach, Michele Madison.
The festival will officially open on April 11 at a 6 p.m. forum on the creative economy in the future that is presented by UVA’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the School of Engineering & Applied Science. Click here for a full schedule of events.