U.Va.-Powered Tom Tom Founders Festival Runs Through Sunday

The third annual Tom Tom Founders Festival – five days packed with free music, art and innovation events – kicks off Wednesday at 7 p.m. with a “Crowd-funded Pitch Night” at The Haven, just off the Downtown Mall on East Market Street. Audience members who contribute $10 get a vote to select the best business pitch, and the winner gets either the crowd-funded cash pot or a spot in the University of Virginia’s W.L. Lyons Brown III Innovation Laboratory, or i.Lab, which comes with a $5,000 grant.

That’s just the first of more than 170 hours of Tom Tom events, lasting through Sunday, that will feature dozens of U.Va. faculty, alumni and students. The i.Lab, U.Va. Arts and the Galant Center for Entrepreneurship at the McIntire School of Commerce are three of the festival’s seven major sponsors.

Inspired by the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, the Tom Tom Founders Festival has evolved each year; this year, the festival has increased its focus on innovation, with a slate of talks and workshops structured around nine major topics, or “tracks,” of innovation, festival director Paul Beyer said. The nine tracks – entrepreneurship, technology, health, energy, education, law, food, music and art – each feature multiple events. (The full festival schedule and details are available at www.tomtomfest.com.)

Of the festival’s 110 featured speakers, most of whom are speaking as part of panel discussions, more than 20 are University faculty members. Together they represent nine academic disciplines, from urban planning to law to English.

The arts “track,” sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts, will feature a silent auction for art fans new to collecting, a performance by U.Va. dancers of a new “Dance Score for the Downtown Mall,” and three Virginia Film Festival screenings. 

One is the premier of an episode from “Death Row Stories,” a forthcoming CNN Films documentary series on wrongful conviction, executive-produced by Oscar winners Alex Gibney and Robert Redford and narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon. 

The film features law professor Brandon Garrett, author of the award-winning book, “Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong,” which examines the cases of the first 250 people to be exonerated by DNA testing.

Garrett will join law professors Deirdre Enright, director of investigation for the Law School’s Innocence Project Clinic, and Stephen L. Braga, director of the Law School’s Appellate Litigation Clinic, and two other guests, for a panel discussion of “Do We Need An Innocence Commission?” (The Haven, April 13, 4:30 p.m.)

“The arts serve as one of U.Va.’s greatest bridges to the larger community, and we are happy to see U.Va. comprehensively involved in the Tom Tom Festival,” said Jody Kielbasa, vice provost for the arts and director of the Virginia Film Festival. “The festival is steadily evolving and carving out its niche in Central Virginia.”

The health “track” will feature a panel discussion on “Funding the Next Medical Breakthrough” (The Haven, Friday, 10 a.m.), led by Michael Straightiff, director of U.Va. Licensing and Ventures. A “Health Beyond the Hospital panel discussion (CitySpace, Friday, 2 p.m.) will consider how U.Va. can extend care beyond hospital walls with telemedicine, robotics and other innovations, led by Dr. Karen Rheuban, director of the U.Va. Health System’s Center for Telehealth.

At TED-style “Tom Talks” (The Haven, Sat., 5 p.m.) that highlight “local innovators with global impacts,” four U.Va. clinicians, surgeons and researchers – Drs. Bill Steers, Todd Bauer, Kim Kelley and Ann Hays – will discuss personalized medicine and how their research in urology, robotics, pancreatic cancer and the human biome, respectively, is mapping the individualized “thumbprint” of the human body and how that can lead to better treatments of cancers and other ailments.

The festival includes more than 60 free concerts in multiple venues across Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall.

This year’s music highlights include what is becoming a festival tradition: a major Friday evening party surrounding the McGuffey Art Center, with multiple bands, which has drawn more than 2,000 attendees in past years, Beyer said. This year the party celebrates C­-Ville Weekly’s 25th Birthday. The evening’s musical lineup of a half-dozen groups includes the Hullabahoos, a U.Va. student a cappella group.

The festival will conclude Sunday evening with the semifinal round of the $250,000 Galant Challenge, sponsored by U.Va.’s Galant Center for Entrepreneurship. Ten U.Va. students will compete to be among the three finalists who will get to pitch their business plans on April 24 to early-stage investors ready to invest up to $250,000 in equity seed financing. The audience will select one of the three finalists.

Media Contact

H. Brevy Cannon

Media Relations Associate Office of University Communications