The second annual Tom Tom Founders Festival kicked off Thursday night with $10,000 in prizes rewarding the best ideas from the Charlottesville area’s creative artists and entrepreneurs.
Organized by Paul Beyer, the four-day festival is modeled after Austin, Texas’s, SXSW and celebrates local art, music, food and place-based innovation.
Beyer said the pitch night, held outside at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, allows budding entrepreneurs to gain exposure and support.
“The overwhelming theme of the festival is that ideas should start and stay in Charlottesville,” Beyer said. “Tom Tom synergizes the efforts of the university with entrepreneurs in the community.”
At the crowd-sourced pitch night, audience members buy a ticket giving them a marble to use for voting on their favorite pitch.
Ten finalists were selected in advance from more than 60 applications. The finalists competed for three cash prizes — $5,000 for first place, $3,000 for second place and $2,000 for third.
Pitches were made to a crowd of more than 100 by UVa students, artists, start-up businesses and a nonprofit organization. Projects ranged from biofuels to Internet television, from decorated fire hydrants to homemade tomato sauce.
A first-year Darden student took the top prize with his project to develop a market place connecting local residents willing to show tourists their favorite parts of the community.
“It feels fantastic,” said winner Kenny Schulman. “I am surprised, but I put a lot of effort into it.”
Schulman pitched his project, Eat Drink Play, as an alternative to the online business directory Yelp, built with the intelligence of locals willing to share their expertise and time to show a tourist around.
“If you go on Yelp to find coffee, well I have bad news. In the top five results are Starbucks,” Schulman said. “If I was a visitor, I would want to go to Shenandoah Joe.”
Schulman was confident that many locals would want to share favorite destinations while earning small fees from tourists through his system.
“If you feel like it and you want to show someone Charlottesville, that means you take them along,” Schulman said. “You build a profile [on the system] and you are able to show [a tourist] how awesome the city is.”
Credit: Sabrina Schaeffer, The Daily Progress
Kenny Schulman pitches ‘Eat. Drink. Play.’ at Tom Tom Founders Festival
This year, Beyer partnered with Darden’s Batten Institute, which used the event to unveil its expanded Innovation Lab.
The iLab Incubator is planned as an entrepreneurial hub for the university and the community. Kathy Carr joined in November as the iLab’s new director, transitioning from a career in venture capitalism.
“The iLab incubator has opened up to the community,” Carr said. “The objective is to create an environment where the residents are helping each other develop their plans, optimize their products and network.”
Carr said 24 people have been selected for the incubator’s 2013-14 class. About half are Darden students, another five come from other parts of UVa, and seven come from companies in Charlottesville, Albemarle and Waynesboro.
Carr was asked how the incubator would help locals with business ideas.
“This is their facility, too,” Carr said, highlighting that the iLab is open to the public. “If they have a good business idea, I want them to apply to be a member of the incubator for 2014-15.”
As the winner, Schulman will have the opportunity to join the iLab Incubator program this summer.
The Tom Tom Founders Festival continues today through Sunday.
A panel of local experts will debate the path of Charlottesville’s growth and development — Will the city be more like Austin, Aspen or Arlington? — at 5:30 p.m. today 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.