Paul Beyer Speaks to the Audience at Tom Talks

When the 2011 earthquake hit Louisa County, people in New York read about it on Twitter 30 seconds before they felt any of its tremors.

This was one of many groundbreaking anecdotes local innovators shared Saturday during an afternoon of “Tom Talks” at the Tom Tom Founders Festival.

“Today’s talks really tell the story of this festival of ideas that start here, that grow here and that stay here,” festival director Paul Beyer said.  “These may be the people you see walk into the supermarket … and they might be the leader of their field, and that’s the story of Charlottesville.”

Speaking about education, Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County schools, emphasized the need to prepare children for a rapidly changing, technology-based economy.

“[Our] kids are entering a world where technology is going to permeate all disciplines, humanities, sports [and] science,” Moran said.  “[We need to think about] how to educate our students for their century and not mine.”

Moran highlighted some of Albemarle County’s innovative education programs, such as the CoderDojo, which teaches computer programming skills, as well as music industry classes and Design 2050, which looks at how learning can be customized to each student so they might have numerous entry paths into their education, rather than a one-size fits all approach.

“We’re getting away from 20th century factory schools,” Moran added.  “Our kids are not going to be entering careers where you’re told what to do at every step of the day.  They’ll need to create and engineer at every step.”

With respect to innovative leadership, University of Virginia president Teresa A. Sullivan suggested that our definition of leaders as heroic might be flawed.  Rather, she praised the sustainable leader who may go unnoticed.

“Heroic leaders defy the odds and so we tend to idolize them, and often we don’t see ourselves as leaders because we’re not heroic,” Sullivan said.  “But sustainable leaders are more likely to think of an entire team and put in place a culture for success over the long haul.”

Sullivan also shared how she fell back on her sustainable leadership qualities after her firing and reappointment.

“I’m conscious of the fact that leaders have teams, and the team underwent a trauma,” Sullivan said.  “When I came back, it was important to grieve with them.”

“I remember sitting with one dean and asked how it went for him and his eyes filled with tears,” Sullivan added.  “We had to come together and support each other.”

Cville Central co-founder Toan Nguyen likened his new venture that directs contracts to small female- and minority-owned maintenance businesses to Sullivan’s recovery.

“Teresa really got involved with the whole town, and not just the University,” Nguyen said.  “Until we look at the whole community and not just concentrate on one single thing, until we realize that … then we can’t fulfill our full potential.”

Allowing private industry to realize the full potential of large sets of government data was at the heart of Waldo Jaquith’s 10-minute talk about innovations in technology.

“We knew three days early when and where Hurricane Sandy would strike New York,” Jaquith said.  “I have an app on my phone that lets me know if it’s going to rain in the next 20 minutes where I am right now, [and this is] all the result of data provided by the National Weather Service.”

Jaquith pointed toward the Department of Veterans Affairs’ switch to electronic medical records as a model.

“I’d like to see the innovation that’s happening in the federal government brought to Virginia.  Private enterprise can do things with this data that government wouldn’t think of,” Jaquith said.  “Give us the raw materials, and we can make it work.”

Two local entrepreneurs making it work locally are Adam Healey and Caesar Layton.

With his wife, Healey founded Borrowed and Blue, a wedding-planning business that got its start focusing on Charlottesville weddings.  Healey laid out a nine-point plan for starting a successful Internet business and emphasized the importance of shrinking your playing field.

“The small playing field for us was Charlottesville weddings,” Healey said.  “There’s probably 5,000 weddings a year [in Charlottesville], and we want to be the first place a bride goes online to plan.”

To achieve that, Healey emphasized clear goals and trust.

“Define what success looks like, give your experts what they need to be successful and then get out of the way,” Healey said.

Relay Food’s Caesar Layton discussed the coming intersection of the local and Internet food movements.

“Over the last 40 years, people have become disconnected from their food,” Layton said.  “We’re using technology to improve the way people eat.”

Layton pointed to Charlottesville’s locavore reputation as a contributing factor of Relay Food’s success.

“Charlottesville is amazing, you have more local food here than most places in the world,” Layton said.  “We have just begun, and it’s really exciting that a city like Charlottesville is at the front.”

The Tom Tom Founders Festival continues today with additional innovation talks starting at 3 p.m. at The Haven on Market Street.

Information on other festival activities, many of which are free and open to the public, can be found at www.tomtomfest.com.

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