This spring, innovators from around the nation are set to visit Charlottesville to share stories about the formation and execution of their ideas.
The latest addition to the Tom Tom Founders Festival, the daylong Founders Summit is a series of talks that will be held April 17 at the Paramount Theater.
“It’s a national assembly of creatives and entrepreneurs organized specifically around the theme of founding narratives,” Paul Beyer, the festival’s director, said. “It’s a central stage for business, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation, but it’s happening in the context of something that’s very Charlottesville, which is culture, creativity, ideas and art.”
“So in and of itself, the Founders Summit wouldn’t be successful if there wasn’t this community stage that was the backdrop to the whole thing,” Beyer added.
Among the approximately 20 speakers presenting are Reddit founder and University of Virginia graduate Alexis Ohanian; Kip Tindell, founder and CEO of the Container Store; Peter Rojas, vice president of strategy for America Online; and UVa graduate and avant-garde fashion designer Becca McCharen.
Beyer said he was drawn to the story of how Ohanian came to develop Reddit — a news, entertainment and social networking website.
“It was this combination of luck, persistence and failure, all of these things that I think make a story compelling, and now he’s a major advocate for net neutrality, so he has a national presence,” Beyer said, noting that Ohanian is no stranger to the economic situation Charlottesville finds itself in.
“He’s spent a lot of time and energy telling the story of how small cities can be startup hubs, which I think is a tie-in to Charlottesville and the whole festival,” Beyer said.
With respect to the Container Store’s Tindell, the Tom Tom director called him an innovator.
“They have an industry-defined average wage of $50,000 for their retail associates. He has been an outspoken proponent that employees need to be better treated by large corporations,” Beyer said. “So it’s that idea of conscious capitalism and business ethics. What does it mean for a corporation to have many stakeholders — the community, the environment and their employees, in addition to the bottom line?”
The weeklong festival — which will run April 13 to 19 — also will include pitch nights where both nonprofits and businesses can win more than $30,000 in grants, as well as an “American Idol”-style songwriters competition. One hard-working researcher also will take home a $10,000 prize for being named the UVa Innovator of the Year.
Sponsored by UVa’s Curry School of Education, there will be a panel discussion about maker education in the schools, and Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine and of Maker Faire — gatherings where students showcase what they have made and learned in the process — will lead a discussion with educators about how to educate founders.
On April 19, the Belmont Block Party will host a “genius hour” for students to display innovative work.
Chad Ratliff, director of instructional programs for Albemarle County Public Schools, said he thinks the event is essential.
“An important component of the learning process is to be able to demonstrate what you¹ve accomplished and to explain how it works and why, and allow others to interact with the project itself,” Ratliff said. “That’s the ‘genius’ in the genius hour.”
“On a broader level, Tom Tom is fundamentally about creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communications, which are four core principles of learning that we believe contribute to lifelong success for our students,” Ratliff added. “It involves our students with people from all walks of life who visit the festival, it allows for valuable partnerships with such catalysts as the University of Virginia and it gives our students and teachers the opportunity to engage with other participants who have some pretty remarkable ideas of their own.”
April will mark Tom Tom’s fourth spring event, and eighth event total. Reflecting on how the festival has changed over the years, Beyer said it’s become more intentional.
“Each of the events is very specific in its impact in the community and the communities it’s trying to bring together,” Beyer said, adding that pulling together artists and business people often goes overlooked.
“An artist is, by definition, almost an entrepreneur trying to create something out of nothing, trying to fund what they’re doing, trying to make the partnerships that are going to sustain themselves,” Beyer said, noting that business is often more artistic than it’s given credit for.
“You’re assembling your partners, you’re having to create a vision and inspire people to follow through with it,” Beyer said. “So I think that a lot of the assembly of Tom Tom is taking the creative sphere, taking the business sphere, taking the civics sphere and all the diverse disciplines that inhabit those categories and bringing them into one place.”
While the majority of the Tom Tom Founders Festival is free, tickets to the Founders Summit are available for $60 in March and $75 in April.
More information is available at www.tomtomfest.com.