At the seventh annual Tomtoberfest on Saturday, dozens of local companies formed a pop-up innovation district in Charlottesville’s IX Art Park to market themselves and recruit new employees.
Faniska Brisker, a human-resources manager for CoConstruct, said the project management software company plans to add 40 to 50 employees over the next year.
“[Tomtoberfest] is always a fun event for us and a good opportunity to reinforce the fact that we are growing,” Brisker said.
Nicholas Williams, a software engineer at Solovis, joined some of his colleagues to represent the financial analytics firm at the Tomtoberfest Tech Mixer.
Williams graduated from the University of Virginia when the Great Recession was forcing many companies to downsize. He said recent college graduates and other job seekers now are in a much more enviable position.
“It’s an employees’ market at the moment,” he said. “That is a dramatic change, even from just four years ago.”
Tomtoberfest is the prelude to the Tom Tom Founders Festival, which is set to return to downtown Charlottesville in April. It’s also a networking opportunity for the newest startups to emerge from local entrepreneurial incubators, including the Community Investment Collaborative and the UVa i.Lab Incubator program.
Chad Becker and Gautam Kanumuru introduced attendees to Yogi, a search engine they designed to help users find information in large documents and answer their questions efficiently.
In a demonstration with a college economics textbook, Yogi interpreted a question — “What is marginal cost?” — and quickly found the paragraph that introduced that concept.
Kanumuru, a 2015 UVa graduate, said Yogi will launch as a subscription-based service next month. The startup will continue to test the software at UVa and local high schools this year.
“We want to pilot these use cases and collect more data to improve the artificial intelligence even more,” he said.
This year’s Tomtoberfest also featured a new Community Mixer for local nonprofits, advocacy groups and mission-driven businesses.
Paul Beyer, founder and executive director of the Tom Tom Foundation, said the 2019 Tom Tom Founders Festival will focus on building better towns with the help of community organizations.
“Every small city around the country is having a conversation about what unites industry and stakeholders around building a better hometown,” Beyer said. “Charlottesville has experienced so much division and needs to find ways to come together as a community.”
Several groups at the Community Mixer are working to promote environmental sustainability.
Ava Reynolds, a student employee at the UVa Office of Sustainability, asked visitors to give input on the office’s priorities for the future. She said renewable energy, waste reduction and equity and health issues stood out as their preferred areas of improvement.
“UVa has a real desire to work together with the community instead of working on the same things separately,” Reynolds said.
Lyon McCandless, another i.Lab entrepreneur, said she hopes to conserve water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by getting customers hooked on six-legged sources of protein.
McCandless’ company, Geedunk, bakes ground-up crickets into packaged snacks. At Tomtoberfest, she offered samples of garlic croutons containing 19 grams of cricket protein per serving.
McCandless currently lives in Norfolk, where she has hired fellow military spouses to work at her bakery.
“[Geedunk] checked off all of the boxes I had, in terms of what my own social mission was,” she said.