The sixth annual Tom Tom Founders Festival, expected to draw its largest crowd yet – nearly 40,000 people over the course of seven days – kicks off Monday. This burgeoning tradition has become a staple of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia’s spring calendar, bringing the community and hundreds of visitors together to celebrate art, entrepreneurship, education and local cuisine.
“Each year, Tom Tom partners with UVA departments, business initiatives and student organizations,” festival director Paul Beyer said. “Dozens of faculty will be speaking at the festival this year, and hundreds of students will be engaged as volunteers, pitch participants and speakers. UVA is a major force in Charlottesville culturally, intellectually and economically, and Tom Tom is a major showcase of UVA’s impact in the community.”
Festival organizers and members of the UVA community have collaborated to include a new headline event in the Tom Tom lineup this year: the Hometown Summit. It will focus on innovation and community problem-solving in metropolitan areas that have between 100,000 and 1 million residents.
“Throughout the Hometown Summit, Tom Tom is working with the Darden School [of Business], the [Frank] Batten School [of Leadership and Pubic Policy] and the Engineering School to bring together leaders from small and mid-sized cities across the country – cities like Charlottesville – to share ideas and invent new ways to make our cities even greater places to live,” said David Touve, the director of UVA’s i.Lab and a Tom Tom board member.
The summit includes a series of workshops, panels and activities with 300 leaders from 30 cities across the United States. It further expands Tom Tom’s efforts to bring together leading thinkers on a range of topics, and joins established signature events like the Founders Summit and the Youth Summit.
Because of the small size of its full-time staff, Tom Tom looks to a small army of volunteers and a dedicated group of paid fellows – all UVA students – to help plan and execute the full week of events.
Tom Tom fellow and second-year computer science major Ramya Ravichandran has spent months working with area high school students and educators to help plan this year’s Youth Summit. The student-driven event will offer a series of keynote speakers and workshops designed to inspire entrepreneurial problem-solving among teens.
“Working for Tom Tom definitely gave me a feel for a start-up environment and I love collaborating in such a small group of workers,” Ravichandran said. “It’s great to see an entire festival come to life – that brings almost 40,000 people here – all come together and be put on by such a small staff.”
In addition to breaking new ground with its summits, Tom Tom is also tackling innovation in politics with a debut event hosted by UVA’s Miller Center. “Innovations in Democracy: The First 100 Days of Trump” will feature conversations with national figures like U.S. Sen. Mark Warner; CNN political reporter Chris Cillizza; Douglas Blackmon, host of the Miller Center’s “American Forum” program; and Ed Ayers and Brian Balogh of the popular “BackStory” history podcast. Appropriately, this event offering political analysis in the context of American history will take place on April 13, Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.
Other noteworthy events include:
- Block Parties: A series of free open-air concerts in downtown Charlottesville, featuring numerous exciting food and drink options.
- Innovations in Energy: The Future of Renewables: Presented by UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, this 90-minute program features keynotes by leading environmental experts and clean energy entrepreneurs.
- Innovations in Education: The Future of Early Childhood Education: Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education, will lead a discussion on research and practice in early childhood education.
- Farm-to-Table Restaurant Week: All week, restaurants around Charlottesville will show their commitment to local sourcing with a range of special dinner menus.
The festivities begin Monday at 5 p.m. with a community picnic at the IX Art Park. A full schedule of events is available on the Tom Tom website.