This Saturday, more than 50 local entrepreneurial and creative ventures – most with ties to the University of Virginia – will be showcased on Grounds in a “Founders Fair” as part of Tomtoberfest, hosted by the Tom Tom Founders Festival.
The three-day festival – all free and open to the public – launches this evening with a Candidate Forum on “The Politics of Innovation” that will delve into how local leaders and policies impact the creation of local start-up companies, many of which are an extension of U.Va. research.
Twelve candidates for Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will hear from leading voices in Central Virginia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, including Mark Crowell, executive director of U.Va. Innovation and associate vice president for research; Kathy Carr, director of U.Va.’s i.Lab Incubator; former U.Va. professor of medicine and microbiology Martin Chapman, CEO of Indoor Biotechnologies and leader of an effort to create a biotechnology center in downtown Charlottesville; and Uzair Minhas, a fourth-year student in the McIntire School of Commerce and president of the U.Va. Entrepreneurship Group.
Tomtoberfest will continue on Friday with a McGuffey Block Party and will culminate Saturday with five major events on Central Grounds, including the Founders Fair from 4 to 8 p.m., and Jefferson Rounds – short, public seminars in the Rotunda Dome Room from 12:30 to 5 p.m., led by Lawn residents and covering a variety of topics, including ending world hunger and ethics on Wall Street.
Just down University Avenue from the Rotunda, U.Va.’s OpenGrounds and local startup WillowTree Apps will host the launch of the Apps That Matter Competition Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m., challenging unlikely collaborators – local nonprofits and programmers – to build mobile apps that make a difference in society. Groups formed through this program will go on to develop their projects over the next six months, culminating in a public pitch during the next Tom Tom Founders Festival in April.
The groups will be mentored by WillowTree Apps, a local firm that gained notoriety for developing the award-winning University of Virginia App (nicknamed “The Good Ol’ App”), which has been used more than 2.3 million times, according to Zachary Wheat, director of U.Va. Interactive Media and Web Services. Leveraging that success, the firm has gone on to employ 65 people, including many U.Va. graduates, and do work for clients including GE, Johnson & Johnson, and the NBA, CEO Tobias Dengel said.
“We are supporting the apps competition – and Tom Tom,” he said, “because anything we can do to help build the mobile, high-tech ecosystem in Charlottesville, from designers and developers to the business side, helps both the community and our company in the long run.”
At the opposite end of the Lawn from the Rotunda, the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy will host a “Pitch.” event in Garrett Hall from 4 to 8 p.m. A comedian and an actor will share insights on the art of the pitch, followed by a panel of experts judging a pitch competition with cash prizes sponsored by the student-led Entrepreneurship Group at U.Va.
Just outside Garrett Hall, at Acapella in the Amphitheatre, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., seven U.Va. acapella groups will sing some of their greatest hits.
“Held at the heart of the U.Va.’s historic Grounds,” Tom Tom Founders Festival director Paul Beyer said in an email, “the concerts, seminars and competitions of the Founders Fair foster town-gown collaboration by encouraging awareness of the region’s entrepreneurial achievements.”
The Founders Fair event, from 4 to 8 p.m. in the McIntire Amphitheatre, will feature interactive presentations from more than 50 U.Va. student organizations, schools, departments and local companies about entrepreneurship and innovation.
For example, the Albemarle County School System will feature a program on advanced manufacturing technologies and 3D printing developed in partnership with U.Va.’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and its Curry School of Education. Ten startup businesses that have participated in the U.Va. i.Lab Incubator will demonstrate their products.
As the first-ever, University-wide entrepreneurship fair, the Founders Fair will “provide a wonderful opportunity for students to participate in the groundswell of entrepreneurship and innovation activities budding and starting around U.Va. and Charlottesville,” said Philippe Sommer, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, part of the Batten Institute at the Darden School of Business, one of several hosts of the Founders Fair.
The Founders Fair event is also hosted by the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the Galant Center for Entrepreneurship at the McIntire School of Commerce, the Office of the Dean of Students Student Affairs Community Engagement, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, WillowTree Apps, Broad Axe Care Coordination and R.L. Beyer Custom Homes.