Ending on Sunday, April 15th, the seventh annual Tom Tom Founders Festival drew more than 43,165 program attendees over a week of programming that incorporated over 200 free and ticketed events. Event organizers estimate that this figure reflects 20,000 unique participants. Tom Tom competitions, fundraisers and partner events cumulatively raised and awarded over $223,512 to nonprofits, entrepreneurs and researchers.
“The Festival team is tremendously grateful to the community of Charlottesville and all of our many partners, friends, and volunteers here who have chosen to make this a week of inclusive innovation, creativity, and togetherness,” said Tom Tom founder and executive director Paul Beyer. “Our city has exceptional brains, beauty, and heart, and all three were on display last week as we welcomed hundreds of speakers and visitors from across the country to our Historic Downtown.”
The week began on Monday with a unseasonable dusting of snow, but that didn’t stop locals from showing up to an outdoor Community Potluck followed by the “Cville Gives” grant night, which raised more than $27,000 for area charities addressing affordable housing. At the same time, Tom Tom kicked off its “Craft Cocktail Competition” and “Farm-to-Table Restaurant Week” at a dozen restaurants and bars to highlight Charlottesville’s buzzy locavore scene, while two City buses sporting original compositions from local visual artists served riders, part of the Festival’s “City As Canvas” program of free and accessible public art. Monday also marked the start of Tom Tom’s “Community Workshop” series, which consisted of 30 tutorials led by talented local entrepreneurs on topics ranging from virtual reality filmmaking to concocting delicious ice cream cakes.
Tom Tom continued on Tuesday with architects and activists exploring the future of Vinegar Hill Park at the Bushman Dreyfus Architects global design challenge, while down the street three extraordinary women – the leaders of Monticello, Montpelier, and Highland, respectively – delved into the complex legacy of our nation’s Founders.
By Wednesday, the Festival was in full swing. In the morning, over 600 teenagers from across the region gathered in the Paramount to pitch their ideas at Youth Summit, before heading over to the IX Art Park for a “Makerville” where the students showed off homemade robots, DIY software experiments, art projects and more. The entrepreneurial mood continued into the evening, when a team of UVa undergrads captured the audience’s vote at the “Crowdfunded Pitch Night.” At the same time, Tom Tom’s Summit programming launched with a smart and unflinching examination of the American “Presidency at a Crossroads” led by power players from the left and right. The night ended with legendary comedian, actor, and writer John Cleese, who lived up to every inch of his reputation for wit and irreverence in a one-night-only performance that raised over $50,870 for research at UVA’s Division of Perceptual Studies.
On Thursday, Tom Tom’s Summits – the Festival’s rapidly growing conference offering – began in earnest with simultaneous programming across 11 venues, ranging from overflowing sessions on applied machine learning (think: artificial intelligence, big data, and robots) to the national book release of Our Towns, the latest title from renowned journalist and author James Fallows. In all, the Summits brought together over two thousand attendees and speakers from a host of small cities including Erie, PA; Santa Cruz, CA; Chattanooga, TN; Harrisburg, PA; Reno, NV; Nashville, TN; Milwaukee, MN; Seattle, WA; Pittsburgh, PA; Mountain View, CA; Boulder, CO; Concord, NH; Gainesville, FL; Port Arthur, TX; Oakland, CA; Montpelier, VT; Santa Fe, NM; Hartford, CT; and Baltimore, MD as well as New York, Boston, and San Francisco.
A day crammed with workshops, panels, roundtables, featured a keynote lunch with hundreds of plant-based burgers for a talk by Seth Goldman, cofounder of Honest Tea and chairman of Beyond Meat, and concluded with a second talk from John Cleese and researchers from UVA’s Division of Perceptual Studies in a conversation about the mind-body connection. Meanwhile, Tom Tom launched the inaugural American Evolution Innovators Cup which pitted startup teams from ten Virginia colleges and universities in a race to design the next breakthrough business for $20,000 in cash prizes. The day ended with a rousing call to citizenship and activism from iconic newsman Dan Rather, who received a standing ovation from Downtown Mall patrons while walking to deliver his keynote at the Paramount Theater.
Ideas and inspiration at Founding Stories carried into Friday morning which started off with US Senator Mark Warner telling of his own frank – and funny – “founding story”of how he went from living out of his car to becoming the internationally recognized public leader that he is today. Later on, Reddit CEO and cofounder Steve Huffman took the same stage to share how he and his UVA classmate created a website that now has 330 million active monthly users. Meanwhile, dozens of other sessions over the course of the day sparked dialogue about topics as diverse as the opioid crisis in Virginia, renewable energy technology, and strategies for better recognizing African American history through public sculpture and preservation.
Finally, it was 5 o’clock and time for Tom Tom’s free, public, three day-long Block Party to begin. Over the next several hours, more than six thousand locals, students, and out-of-towners streamed into Emancipation Park to enjoy live music, craft beer, food trucks, and dozens of artisan vendors, reclaiming a space that less than a year ago had been co-opted into a global symbol of hatred and bigotry.
Saturday was another perfect spring day, beginning bright and early with the Iron Chef Competition at a teeming City Market; and partner events like the Charlottesville Color Run which raised $8,000 for local schools, the 19th Annual Virginia Institute for Autism 5k, which raised over $100,000; “Hacking Diversity,” a challenge to elevate women and people of color in tech; and a “Housing Action Session,” which culminated a multi-day series of seminars and lectures on residential affordability in Charlottesville. Later in the morning, gold-star father and national voice for Constitutional norms Khizr Khan keynoted the “We Are Here Diversity Festival.” Then Tom Tom’s Block Party resumed at noon and didn’t stop until 11pm, when a New Orleans-style brass band led a parade from the Park to the Downtown Mall.
On Sunday, torrential rain and heavy winds threatened – but miraculously held off until right after Tom Tom’s Block Party ended at 8pm. Even Porchella, the Festival’s concluding series of front porch concerts in the downtown neighborhood of Belmont, was able to get underway for a few hours before thunderstorms put an end to the night, wrapping up a huge week of positivity, leadership, and new ideas for Charlottesville and small cities like it across the nation.
A detailed recap as well as video footage of talks, highlights, and interviews from the Festival will be released by the end of May.
2018 Competition Results:
Craft Cocktail Competition – Alec Spidalieri from Junction won the Judge’s Choice; Carrie Hodgkins from Lost Saint was the crowd favorite
Cville Gives – Charlottesville Abundant Life Ministries received a $10,000 grant from Cville Gives members, and a total of $27,036 was raised for Charlottesville nonprofits that focus on affordable housing.
L&A Tee Shirts won the Business Pitch Challenge at Youth Summit and a spot in the Community Investment Collaborative entrepreneur incubator
The W.L. Lyons Brown Innovation Laboratory at UVA chose two teams to join its incubator program: MindTriggers and Art for the Heart
Crowdfunded Pitch Night – Satellite Bootcamp, a summer program for budding entrepreneurs won the audience vote and a cash prize from attendees
American Evolution Innovations Cup – Aecium Medical Solutions from Virginia Tech took the top prize of $10,000. Candid Campus Tours from William & Mary placed second place ($5,000) and French Slide from Virginia Commonwealth University placed third place ($3,000) in the competition.
Iron Chef – Chef Javier Figueroa-Ray from Pearl Island Foods won with his unique take on a ham biscuit with poached egg, hollandaise sauce, trout roe caviar, and a sweet potato hash.