Outdoor ‘playscape’ wins Tom Tom crowd-funding event

Carolyn Schuyler is one step closer to opening Wildrock, a natural play space in Crozet for children and families to enjoy the outdoors.

Schuyler, a social worker, took home the top prize during the fourth annual Tom Tom Founders Festival’s Crowdfunded Pitch Night, held Thursday at the Jefferson Theater. Winning the event means Schuyler will study at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business’ Innovation Laboratory this summer.

“I want to give Wildrock a good foundation so it can be successful for generations to come,” Schuyler said of the 28 acres of pasture that she hopes will encourage people to play in nature.

“I think the future of the conservation movement depends on this,” Schuyler added, noting that the park will feature trails, obstacle courses, “playscape” days for the public, rentals for family gatherings and the option to camp outside.

Philippe Sommer, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at the Batten Institute at Darden, said that the Innovation Laboratory will have 25 companies in its incubator this summer, and that one-third of them are led by community members.

“They get $5,000, legal support and mentoring, a space to work and a community to be a part of for 10 weeks in the summer,” Sommer said.

Another contestant, Evolution Glass, won a spot in a 17-week entrepreneur workshop with the Community Investment Collaborative, a Charlottesville-based program designed to help entrepreneurs from low-income and underserved communities start or expand their businesses.

Evolution Glass, started by Bill Hess and Wes Carter, makes countertops with 100 percent recycled glass bottles.

“It takes glass that would be headed for the landfill and puts it back in the users’ hands,” said Hess. “This will save energy and money.”

Carter, who opened Albemarle Countertop Company in 2003, said the manufacturing process is challenging.

“It has involved many nights of shaping this stuff, often not working, and now we are at a point where we have a stable material that works,” Carter said.

Other pitches included event entrepreneurs, such as the Local Nanny Network, which provides on-site childcare at wedding venues and events, and TJ’s Event Management, which provides an in-home fine-dining experience.

A second outdoor business pitch was Rising River Outfitters, which is designed to bring more people onto the Rivanna by renting river equipment, mountain bikes and fly-fishing gear.

“We want a river that we can all enjoy and take care of,” said Gabe Silver, who pitched the idea.

Education-related pitches included STEM Start, which brings middle school students together with science and technology firms to increase the number of students interested in that field, and Prepopotamus, a web-based education platform that combines the benefits of a live tutor with the convenience of an online program.

One of Prepopotamus three designers, Lee Elberson, said there is no better way to learn something than in a one-on-one manner.

“Our mission is basic,” said Elberson. “We want to provide access to students to this unique leaning tool so they can realize their dreams and bridge the gap for those who can afford better test prep and those who can’t.”

Wildrock’s Schuyler said children build happy memories when they spend time outside.

“Nature is often the key to helping people find the inner peace they thought they lost.”

“This is a terrific, exciting and dynamic time to live in Charlottesville,” said Paul Beyer, director of the Tom Tom Founders Festival. “These folks have put their sweat and blood into this pitch because they see it as a great opportunity to get their start.”

The festival culminates Sunday.