top of page

Our Year in Review: 2019

Welcome. Thank you for all that you have done to make Tom Tom a success this past year. It was a big year for our organization, for our hometown of Charlottesville, and for an ongoing national dialogue about city innovation. We are excited to share with you some of the impacts.

In 2019, the Tom Tom Summit & Festival convened thousands of leaders from more than 300 cities across the country. They came to Charlottesville to make connections they couldn’t make anywhere else, and to engage in a unique dialogue about the future of America’s hometowns. Increasingly, and excitingly, the stage is being set for those conversations to live on beyond those events.

One of the Tom Tom Foundation’s chief measures of success is rooted in this collaboration, both with a national roster of civic stakeholders like the Kauffman Foundation, Rise of the Rest, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and in media partnerships with Entrepreneur magazine and Shondaland and hosted speakers from Slate, The New York Times, and New York Magazine, to name a few. We also continue to work alongside hundreds of community organizations located right here in Charlottesville.

Our ambition is to be the live platform for transformative connections among small-city leaders and to be the best partner to the Charlottesville community that we can be. In the following report, I’ll share with you our year in rear view: our successes and challenges, the goals we met and new goals we set, and the individuals and organizations we had the privilege of engaging throughout.

Thank you, as always, for your belief in our mission and unbending dedication to the inclusive advancement of tomorrow’s cities.

Paul Beyer Executive Director Tom Tom Foundation Tom Tom Summit & Festival



When you have an event that encompasses beer at block parties, world-class thought leadership, public murals, city art buses, and public performances — there’s one question that comes up a lot: What exactly is Tom Tom?

In 2019, the Tom Tom Foundation really leaned in to this question with a renewed focus on our mission. Tom Tom champions innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship in tomorrow’s cities. They’re the values you think about when imagining the kind of community you want to live and work in.

When Tom Tom started in 2012 on the steps of The McGuffey Art Center, it was about big ideas, innovation and community, in and around Charlottesville. This vision has expanded to take a broader thematic look at how cities across America are working to become more creative, prosperous, and equitable communities. It has also refined, showcasing our own hometown in this conversation, and how innovation is being put into practice in Charlottesville.

That’s where we step in. We at Tom Tom believe that small-city innovators are underserved. So, in 2019, we asked not only, “How can we address these issues?” but “How can we take steps to actively foster change?” Our program’s resounding response: by leveraging cross-country and local networks, we can strengthen the power of convening, spark new relationships, and supply tools and takeaways to bolster hometowns across the nation.

Moving forward, our vision is to become the destination for tomorrow’s city innovation and the platform for sharing research, policy, playbooks, stories, and resources that empower change in a vital sector of American civic life.



You may have noticed that “TTFF” lost (and added) a letter in 2019. In 2019, we changed the name of the event from the “Tom Tom Founders Festival” to the “Tom Tom Summit & Festival.” As a “Founders Festival”, we focused primarily on entrepreneurial and creative ideas, but as the years have passed, we’ve recognized that these are just a couple of the components of a thriving and inclusive city. 

Although we continue to promote the importance of robust entrepreneurial ecosystems, a broader purview of education, health, data, climate, criminal justice and other essential conversations offer a fuller story of small-city progress across the country. 

In 2019, we  organized our thought-leadership content into a Summit experience whose bold theme was “Building 21st Century Hometowns” and gathered civic leaders, entrepreneurs, engaged citizens, and preeminent innovators to explore what makes small cities thrive. Then, we paired this topical programming with a wide range of free Festival events—both familiar and new—to bolster the Tom Tom theme of community building. 

So, we’ve recalibrated our mission, dropped the”Founder” from our logo, and hence, the Tom Tom Summit & Festival was born.



We embraced the truth that if cities are going to be innovative, they’ve got to be equitable. Countless sessions at this year’s Summit elevated these themes, including conversations about reintegrating the formerly incarcerated into society, tackling bias in data practice, preventing homelessness before it starts, welcoming refugee populations into communities, reforming the present criminal justice system, pursuing inclusion in arts communities, and maintaining diverse role models in schools—and we look forward to continuing many of these dialogues at our 2020 Summit. 

As for our speakers? Multisector civic leaders shared the work they’re doing in small cities through the lens of Youth Innovation, Civic Innovation, Renewable Energy, Creative Ecosystems, Applied Machine Learning, and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems. In all, more than 464 speakers brought their expertise and enthusiasm to Charlottesville, and a focus on inclusion and equity manifested itself in the form of our most diverse speaker lineup to date.

Tom Tom 2019 attracted a long list of national luminaries at both the conferences and our headlining events throughout the week. Youth Innovation Conference keynote speaker Jaclyn Corin, a freshly graduated Parkland student and cofounder of March For Our Lives, talked about translating tragedy into activism at the historic Paramount Theater and inspired scores of local students. At The Future of Cannabis, superstars Steve Hawkins, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project; Jane West, “the Martha Stewart of Marijuana”; and more leading experts dug into the legalization movement’s implications on everything from agriculture to criminal justice. Headlining journalists Emily Bazelon (The New York Times Magazine), John Dickerson (CBS This Morning), David Plotz (Atlas Obscura), and Jamelle Bouie (The New York Times) recorded the Slate Political Gabfest podcast live, dissecting crucial topics like the crisis of immigration policy and the clash of presidential candidates. And to top it all off, Whose Line Is It Anyway? veterans Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood delivered an unforgettable improv performance entitled “Scared Scriptless.”



Thanks to an ongoing partnership with VPM PBS, we have been able to capture some amazing content that both inspires and educates.



The success of this Charlottesville celebration was, in fact, what prompted the Summit– as more and more leaders from other cities came to Tom Tom— they wondered how these kinds of conversations could inform their own communities. So when April’s annual community culture Festival returned in full force, it put the intellectual ideas of the Summit into focus and exhibited how a community can celebrate its creative leaders in business, arts, and government.

Our popular block party drew artists from as far as San Francisco and as near as Charlottesville’s 10th & Page neighborhood, and community workshops showcased local programs and passions. Plus, music, art, and food events offered a taste of Charlottesville’s rich cultural landscape. The Festival also examined the history of our community; empowering diverse stakeholders from Presidential homes like Montpelier and Monticello, to grassroots black filmmakers surfacing stories of discrimination and bigotry, to tell a fuller account of Charlottesville’s reality. And a free screening of Black Panther raised funds for local nonprofits Abundant Life Ministries, African American Teaching Fellows, and City of Promise, who are shaping the future of inclusivity and opportunity in Charlottesville. 

There were also five high-impact competitions, including pitch events, such as Crowdfunded Pitch Night; design challenges; community cookoffs; and grant nights. In total, our competitions and pitch nights raked in $147,000 through grants, prizes, and investment.



In 2019, Tom Tom was one of a handful of signature events for the Commonwealth of Virginia to commemorate the events of 1619, where many impactful, painful, and important events occurred, ranging from Jamestown’s early emergence as an entrepreneurial hub, to the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to the continent. These twin threads prove to be definining to our society in ways that reverberate to this day. American Evolution commemorates those historical events that took place four centuries ago in Virginia and have left a lasting mark on American life.

Tom Tom joined the Commemoration to host The American Evolution Innovators Cup, a pitch competition mobilizing entrepreneurial university students. The second-annual Cup challenged Virginia’s top students to imagine innovative solutions to issues facing both the state and nation, focusing on two challenges: social impact and innovative startups.

This year’s Innovators Cup featured 42 teams from 17 Virginia colleges and universities, plus two high schools, who competed for $60,000 in cash and prizes. Virginia Tech student teams swept both competitions: Redshift Education, Inc., a startup transforming the learning landscape with virtual reality, snagged the Social Impact Challenge title; and Rendyr, the team behind efficient (and portable!) laser cutters, won the Commonwealth Challenge. 



This multi-disciplinary collaboration enabled UVA to facilitate conversations and projects with stakeholders in the public and private sectors from hundreds of communities across the nation, and to share cutting-edge research and solutions that can empower change. 

UVA presented key conferences like Youth Innovation (Curry School of Education and Human Development), Applied Machine Learning (Data Science Institute), and Civic Innovation (Office of the Provost), but also spearheaded major community initiatives like a Startup & Innovation Fair (UVA Career Center), and the Crowdfunded Pitch Night (i.Lab at UVA). 




On an alternating and biweekly basis, we curate newsletter content for the two principal arms of our Tom Tom audience. Our Speaker Newsletter offers timely updates about Summit alums, while our Charlottesville-focused community newsletter—aptly dubbed the “Com Com Newsletter”—acts as a running list of the hottest events going down around town. (Read more about both of our newsletters here, and view all past installments here.)


Transforming public transit into public art, the fifth-annual City Art Bus competition drew 54 submissions from an international group of artists and designers and resulted in the wrapping of one 35’ clean diesel CAT bus and one 28’ JAUNT bus. The two winning designs, submitted by artists Egypt and Craig Snograss, were hand-picked by community voters and will be seen by upwards of 400,000 eyes before 2020 rolls around. (A full gallery of 2019 finalists can be viewed here.)


2019 saw the completion of three stunning murals and the solidification of a partnership with The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, a local arts organization. This year, projects by Federico Cuatlacuatl of Cholula, Puebla, Mexico; Sam Gray of Charlottesville, Virginia; and Hamilton Glass of Richmond, Virginia added colorful layers to our city’s creative and cultural landscape.


In 2019, we welcomed ten outstanding student fellows to our office for a crash-course in civic innovation and event planning. Our fellows, who specialized in everything from data analytics and marketing to partnerships and programming, received mentorship from the Tom Tom network and connected with thought leaders from across the country. Thank you to the 2019 cohort for dedicating their time and talents to Tom Tom: Anahissa Almaraz-Camacho, Virginia Chambers, Kiernan DiMeglio, Clara Doley, Veronica Merril, Adeet Patel, Jordan Richardson, Kayde Schwabacher, Jewel Simon, and Merritt Vance.


Also at Tomtoberfest, our Tech Mixer offered community members the opportunity to connect with 100+ of the hottest companies in the Mid Atlantic and beyond. Investors, entrepreneurs, and top talent convened to shake hands, swap resumes, and pursue recruitment. In the spring, the event—reframed as the “Startup & Innovation Fair”—returned and helped kick off Block Party at the Summit & Festival.


Our fall festival returned for its eighth year in 2018 as an arm of the FreeFall Concert Series. The daylong celebration, which unfolded at the IX Art Park, offered a rollicking celebration of Charlottesville creativity, innovation, and community. Live music, art expos, craft beer, food trucks, and mini-competitions (Cornhole, anyone?) all contributed to the fun.



bottom of page