Tom Tom to feature two innovation contests

The crowd at last year’s pitch night listens intently as local entrepreneurs present their big ideas. This year, the top winner will go home with $5,000. Photo: The crowd at last year’s pitch night listens intently as local entrepreneurs present their big ideas. This year, the top winner will go home with $5,000. Photo:
“It takes persistence, not necessarily any particular genius, to be an entrepreneur,” said University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce adjunct professor Brendan Richardson.
A UVA graduate and startup investor himself, Richardson has spent more than 20 years working with new ideas and the people behind them. The next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates might be just around the corner, but Richardson said great ideas don’t just happen. People need to leave their comfort zones and cross community boundaries to collaborate on ideas, and that’s exactly what Paul Beyer is going for with the 2013 Tom Tom Founders Festival, set to begin Thursday, April 11.
Beyer, a NYU graduate who ran for city council in 2011, organized and hosted Tom Tom last year, a month-long music festival that included  events like a crowd-funded pitch night and Downtown block parties. This year, Beyer has shortened the festival to four days—April 11-14—and put more emphasis on innovation.
Two pitch nights for local entrepreneurs will bookend the festival, highlighting Beyer’s mission to bring people together for the next big idea. The festival will kick off at 6:30pm on Thursday, April 11, with the $10K Pitch Competition at the new iLab at UVA. In partnership with the Batten Institute at UVA’s Darden School of Business, the event will feature 10 local competitors with ideas that need funding. With Willow Branch bluegrass band onstage ready to chime in with a banjo if a pitch goes over its time limit, each contestant will present to the crowd. Like last year, everyone chips in $10 at the door, which buys one marble to place in a bowl representing the best idea. The contestant with the most votes will go home with $5,000, the second-place winner will receive $3,000, and the remaining $2,000 will go to third place. According to Beyer, Darden will supplement the remaining funds if the crowd doesn’t raise $10,000.
Last year’s winner was Sandra Carter, owner of Sixth Street Minimart, who wants to start a healthy catering company to serve her low-income neighborhood. Beyer said Carter has spent the last year investing money from the pitch night into updating her kitchen and getting her ducks in a row to launch her business.
“It was one of the best successes of last year, without a doubt,” Beyer said of the 2012 pitch night. “It brought together a lot of communities that wouldn’t normally mix.”
UVA has taken on the role as one of the festival’s main sponsors, which Beyer said has attracted and made partners of people, young and old, amateurs and professionals, from every corner of the community.
“The fact that UVA sponsored Tom Tom for only its second year really speaks to the University’s enthusiasm to bridge that gap,” said third-year McIntire student and Entrepreneurship Group at UVA President Uzair Minhas.
Minhas was on Beyer’s team of University and community representatives that chose the 10 competitors for the pitch night. With so many ideas on the table, Minhas said, he’s anticipating guests will have a tough choice to make.
“I want the crowd to be really caught up on who to pick,” he said. “They all only have one marble, and I want that to be a really difficult decision.”
New to the festival’s agenda is the Tom Tom Wild Card, the preliminary round of UVA’s annual $250,000 Galant Challenge. On Sunday, April 14, at 7pm at the Haven, 10 University students will pitch their ideas; two winners will be chosen by a panel of judges, and a third will be picked by the crowd. The three finalists will go on to the Galant Challenge the following week, where they’ll present their ideas to a group of real angel investors.
Last year all three finalists struck deals with investors at the event, and Richardson said it’s part of McIntire’s mission to provide real-life business experience for students at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Only young entrepreneurs at UVA can participate in the main event. But Richardson and Beyer believe that closing the gap between the University and Charlottesville community is the key when it comes to encouraging innovation.
“It is painfully separated,” Richardson said. “It should be much more integrated, and we’re all trying to make that happen as efficiently as possible.”
$10K Pitch Night competitors 
Alex Zorychta—Biofuel Systems, an alternative energy think tank
Guinevere Higgins—City Schoolyard Garden, a community garden at Buford Middle School
Kenny Schulman—Eat Drink Play Travel, a mobile app that recommends local favorites to tourists
Rosa Nicolosi & Chicho Lorenzo—Hydrant Art, a project to paint child-designed murals on city fire hydrants
Susan Chambers—Jamakin Me Crazy, a family Jamaican restaurant
Duylam Nguyen-Ngo & Ashutosh Priyadarshy—WalkBack, a community safety app
Chad Ciesel—, an Internet sports television platform
Elizabeth James—The Happy Tomato, a local tomato sauce and pesto producer
M. James Faison—Milton’s Local Harvest, an online marketplace connecting local farmers and buyers
Victoria Long, Maureen Lovett, & Brooke Ray—Charlottesville SOUP, a dinner series that funds local art

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