UVA, Charlottesville at the Heart of the Eighth Annual Tom Tom Founders Festival

Band playing on the stage at the Tom Tom Founders Festival

This year’s festival has 400 speakers, 280 events and more than 70 free concerts. (Photo by Tom Daly)

There is such a wide range of events at the Tom Tom Founders Festival every year that it can sometimes be easy for attendees to lose sight of the big picture.

That shouldn’t be any issue when the eighth annual event kicks off on Monday in Charlottesville, according to Tom Tom Founders Festival Director Paul Beyer.

“This year the predominant theme is building better hometowns,” Beyer said, “and looking at civic innovation and entrepreneurship across the whole country and how it relates specifically to building a better hometown here in Charlottesville.”

To that end, the weeklong festival will center around six conferences that gather civic leaders, entrepreneurs, engaged citizens and innovators to explore what makes hometowns thrive in the 21st century.

Beyer said the goal of the conferences – which will feature such luminaries as “CBS This Morning” host – and UVA graduate – John Dickerson, Facebook’s Andrew Therriault and Parkland, Florida mass shooting survivor Jaclyn Corin – is to offer unparalleled access to today and tomorrow’s leaders.

“The most important thing about Tom Tom is that it has grown organically with the community and at the community’s direction,” Beyer said. “As we all know here in Charlottesville, there were some troubled times the past few years after the Aug. 11 and 12 [2017] events. We’ve just had to really look into ourselves and our souls and figure out what is going to create a better community for everyone in Charlottesville.

“UVA has been at the forefront of that conversation and has really spurred Tom Tom to make sure that innovation is defined through the lens of equity and that there is a sense that you can’t be an innovative or progressive city unless you’re truly inclusive and equitable.”

On Tuesday, UVA’s Curry School of Education and Human Development will help put on the Youth Innovation Conference. Parkland survivor Corin, who, less than a week after the shooting at her high school mobilized 100 of her classmates and brought them on a lobbying trip to the state capital, will be the keynote speaker.

On Wednesday, UVA’s Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost will help host the Civic Innovation Conference, a forum that will examines themes such as equity and inclusion, creative place-making, affordable housing, local journalism, community wellness and data-driven policy. Speakers will include UVA media studies professor Wyatt Andrews; UVA Police Chief Tommye Sutton; Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service Executive Director Larry Terry; and Welcoming America Deputy Director Isha Lee.

On Thursday, UVA’s Data Science Institute will help put on the Applied Machine Learning Conference, featuring a who’s-who of researchers, entrepreneurs and writers, headlined by Therriault, Facebook’s infrastructure data science manager.

On Friday, the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UVA’s Darden School of Business presents the Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Conference, a summit in which leaders discuss the impact of data-driven decisions.

At the Paramount Theater on Friday night, Dickerson, New York Times Magazine’s Emily Bazelon and Atlas Obscura’s David Plotz will host the popular current event podcast, “Slate Political Gabfest.”

“It promises to be a great night of political commentary that is very fun and fast-moving and witty,” Beyer said.

In addition, a number of students will pitch their tech, leadership and innovation ideas at the American Evolution Innovators Cup competition, with select teams earning invites to the McIntire School of Commerce’s annual Galant Challenge taking place later this month.

The Galant Center, partnering with Tom Tom and UVA’s Career Center, will also host the Startup & Innovation Fair on Friday night at Market Street Park.

In all, this year’s festival has 400 speakers and 280 events.

“They range from the founder of Burning Man to avant-garde artists who are nationally lauded,” Beyer said. “It’s just such a breadth. It’s just incredible how many different luminaries in their fields are all coming to Charlottesville and all connected around this core scene.”

Beyer said between 70 and 80 free concerts will take place throughout the week in downtown Charlottesville.

“It’s just kind of a way to meet your neighbor, as well as meet amazing thinkers from all over the country that are coming into the city for Tom Tom,” Beyer said.

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Whitelaw Reid

University of Virginia Licensing & Ventures Group