Spring is coming, and so is the Tom Tom Summit & Festival. [UPDATE: Originally slated for April, Tom Tom has been rescheduled for September 21-27, 2020.] Every year, the event mixes music, community art projects, and a plethora of innovative business ideas. We caught up with Tom Tom’s executive director, Paul Beyer, for a look ahead at this year’s fest.
Can you share any success stories coming out of Tom Tom’s business competitions?
Tom Tom’s competitions range from crowd-funded pitch nights targeted toward individuals and very early-stage small business to equity-based challenges seeking to match investors with scalable technology companies. Over the past several years, there have been hundreds of thousands of dollars invested at Tom Tom. Success at Tom Tom can mean a start-up entrepreneur receiving the encouragement to keep going—even if they don’t “win”—or an investment. Last year’s winner of the crowdfunded pitch night was Babylon Microfarms. They have continued to grow, and recently raised $2.3M in capital to expand their business.
What will help Charlottesville thrive in the 21st century on the creative, entrepreneurial, industry, and innovation side?
My dream for 21st-century Charlottesville is one in which we’re able to become a welcoming home to all types of residents—a city that is filled with opportunity, and encouraging to dreamers, creators, and entrepreneurs. In terms of opportunity, we’re beginning to make real strides here with various educational and entrepreneurial programs that level the playing field. In terms of encouragement, that is something that we as a community have to continue to get better at. In a lot of respects, Charlottesville is a very successful and affluent place, and thus it can fall into complacency. We can sometimes be a little apathetic or even negative to new ideas. At Tom Tom we really try to make sure that creators of all kinds are honored and celebrated.
How has Tom Tom been integral to pushing those qualities forward since it was founded?
I think Tom Tom’s best quality is being grassroots, which allows many people to contribute in different ways. We invite people to join our programs or to create their own to accomplish their organization’s goals. I’d like to think that creates a sense of “ownership.” Tom Tom’s goal is to create a platform that can model how stakeholders can work together throughout the year.
How do you see local organizations and artists contributing to business development locally?
One of Charlottesville and Albemarle’s best assets is a vibrant culture and quality of life— which are directly related to the artists and nonprofits in the region. We wouldn’t have anywhere near the level of startup activity if entrepreneurs didn’t want to locate here and stay here. Of course, one of my biggest concerns—one that is shared by many of our neighbors—is that our housing and commercial spaces are increasingly unaffordable, and many artists have been priced out of living here.
What sort of business-related headliners can we expect in April?
We’ll be announcing our headliners in the coming weeks. They include Bruce Katz, author of The New Localism, and The Atlantic’s Jim and Deb Fallows, all of whom write about the conditions that communities need to foster in order to have more vibrant and prosperous entrepreneurial communities. We also have serial entrepreneur Tiffany Norwood and restauranteur/chef (and UVA grad) Tanya Holland heading our way.