Published on Cavalier Daily
Charlottesville will host the fifth annual Tom Tom Founders Festival April 11-17.
The festival showcases entrepreneurs from the Charlottesville area, as well as keynote speakers who have founded their own ventures.
The Tom Tom Founders Festival is a local non-profit organization with a central mission of celebrating and empowering founders of all types, Innovation Program Lead Daniel Willson said.
“We see founders as beyond those who just start a business but also really get off the ground in any creative, civic, or entrepreneurial project,” Willson said.
The festival offers nearly 30 events at a variety of venues, most of which are free. The Founders Summit is the festival’s central event, where successful entrepreneurs speak and lead workshops with attendees.
“The Founder’s Summit is the premier event of the festival, it’s a day of talks and workshops and breakout sessions, featuring some of the country’s most renowned entrepreneurs, artists and designers,” Willson said.
Speakers include Lava Records founder and CEO Jason Flom and Becca McCharen, founder and CEO of the fashion line Chromat, whose pieces are worn by celebrities including Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, Willson said.
“U.Va. is tremendous in securing speakers, and a lot of it is cold outreach, reaching out to people who we feel like would have an amazing story to tell, and if they’d be interested in coming,” Willson said. “A lot of [recruiting speakers] is through personal connections. Becca McCharen is actually coming back to the festival this year — she was at the summit last year, and we were able to reach out to her via a connection through the Architecture School.”
This year the festival will include a new Youth Summit, which aims to reach out to and inspire Charlottesville-area high school students, Youth Summit Coordinator Keaton Wadzinski said.
“What we’ve done is worked with all the local schools in the area, and each school will be sending a good portion of their high school students to attend the day-long summit,” Wadzinski said. “We’ll have about 500 to 600 high school students from all across the area and across city, county and private schools coming together to join us for some keynotes, who are young innovators.”
The youth summit includes a business pitch competition and community service challenge, among other competitions. Additionally, Gov. Terry McAuliffe will be in attendance to sign a bill into law for youth entrepreneurship on college campuses, Wadzinski said.
“We realized that we could do a lot more to reach the youth in our community,” Wadzinski said. “[The festival] has become one of the most celebrated community events, it’s become like a hallmark for Charlottesville, and we realized the youth in town could gain a lot from the resources we bring together for our innovation events.”
This year the University will be a primary sponsor of the Festival, a relationship with Willson said shows how collaborative the University and the festival are.
“There are over 300 community organizations that are involved with Tom Tom’s in one way or another and put on all of these events, and a huge number of those are U.Va. student organizations [and] U.Va. departments that help put on competitions, concerts, block parties and also help sponsor fellowships for U.Va. students,” Willson said.