Tomtoberfest pushes town-gown innovation with a light heart

A Tom Tom Founder’s Festival event draws a crowd at Old Metropolitan Hall. Tomtoberfest, a shorter fall version of the innovation-centric city-wide party, takes place this week. Photo: Tom Daly. A Tom Tom Founder’s Festival event draws a crowd at Old Metropolitan Hall. Tomtoberfest, a shorter fall version of the innovation-centric city-wide party, takes place this week. Photo: Tom Daly.

The Tom Tom Founder’s Festival is headed back to school.

Paul Beyer is getting ready to launch the second annual Tomtoberfest, the smaller autumn sister of the spring music and innovation showcase he created in 2012 in the image of Austin’s SXSW. This year’s fall fest runs Wednesday through Saturday, and doubles down on a concept Beyer, a developer and former City Council candidate, believes needs more attention: forging a link between the twin idea factories of UVA and the growing startup community in Charlottesville.

The University is lending space for a long weekend of events, from a candidates’ forum at the University’s OpenGrounds studio on how to make Charlottesville a startup hub to a Founder’s Fair idea expo at the Amphitheater on McCormick Road.

Beyer’s stint in Darden’s iLab incubator during an intensive summer session designed to help a select group of local entrepreneurs grow their startups helped the festival evolve into celebration of ideas that aims to bridge the gap between city and University.

“There’s a lot of momentum around town-gown entrepreneurship,” Beyer said. He made it his job this summer to channel that momentum into programs and events that will spark interest among festivalgoers and potential sponsors alike—it is, after all, a business venture.

It also embodies a lot of what the iLab itself was designed to achieve, said Phillippe Sommer, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Darden’s Batten Institute. Created in 2010, the iLab was designed to be a physical home at UVA for studying innovation in business. Beyer was part of an initial class of about two dozen people pulled from the University and the surrounding community.

Sommer thinks the growth of Tom Tom also drives home two important ideas: good concepts should evolve, and mulling big, important ideas about business and technology shouldn’t be dull.

“We talk a lot about how innovation and entrepreneurship is not about being childish, but being in a way childlike,” he said. “How do you learn to ride a bike? You don’t analyze bike riding. You fall a lot of times, and eventually you get it right.”

For Beyer, getting it right means throwing a party with a purpose. He wants Tom Tom festivals to help the city forge a new narrative for itself.

“The compelling story about Charlottesville is it’s a place where revolutionary ideas started, and we have in the ether here world-class ideas that are still percolating,” he said. “So I see no reason not to really let that drive the city.”

Here’s what’s coming up. Check out further details on the event’s website.

Wednesday: The 12 candidates running for seats on the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will join local entrepreneurs and investors in a candidates’ forum titled The Politics of Innovation at 6pm at Old Metropolitan Hall. Have a beer and hear presenters pepper the pols with questions on how startup hubs grow.

Friday: Head to Second Street NW from 5-10pm for another McGuffy Block Party with live bands, a beer garden, and food trucks. At5:30pm, a representative from Mexican public art collective Puebla Ciudad Mural will offer a mural workshop at the McGuffy Art Center.

Saturday: The Jefferson Rounds bring UVA’s founder’s “learn where you live” principal to life with a series of half-hour seminars by Lawnies in the Rotunda from 12:30-5pm.

The Apps That Matter competition launches at 3pm with a kickoff brainstorming event at OpenGrounds. WillowTree Apps will help guide student teams as they create functioning smartphone apps for local nonprofits during a six-month design challenge. The top three teams will present their products at the Tom Tom Founder’s Festival in April 2014.

Student groups, UVA departments, and local businesses united by their focus on innovation come together to show off their smarts at a Founder’s Fair from 4-8pm at the UVA Ampitheater. A capella groups will serenade visitors starting at 4:30.

At the same time next door in Garrett Hall is Pitch, an afternoon of instruction and action centered on selling ideas. An entrepreneur, poet, comedian, and actress will offer tips on how to captivate a crowd; a panel of UVA alums will discuss student entrepreneurship; and students will compete for a $200 prize in a 60-second elevator pitch competition.