UVa to Co-Host Competition at Tom Tom Fest

January 31, 2013

It is still a few months away, but organizers of the second-annual Tom Tom Founders Festival have announced a new partnership that could win you thousands of dollars for your creative ideas.

Last year's festival spanned a month, jam-packed with dozens of concerts, block parties and creative expos. This year, organizers are condensing similar events to a four-day period this Founders Weekend.

But they say, even with the changes, the festival's mission remains the same -- it's all about local innovation.

"I think we're all trying to promote an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Charlottesville," said Paul Beyer, director of the Tom Tom Founders Festival. "We're trying to do that through the community."

The festival is teaming up with the Batten Institute at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business for this year's kick-off event -- a pitch night where local entrepreneurs will compete for $10,000 in cash prizes and a chance to grow their idea with the help of Darden experts.

"We have all the infrastructure and resources, so one of the things Darden felt it could do is to reach out to the community and offer the same kind of support we would offer a Darden student to someone from the community who wants to start a business," said Philippe Sommer, director of Darden's Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

An audience will pick three winners at the "U.Pitch. C'ville Decides." event. The top idea will also get the chance to be part of an incubator at the university.

The competition will coincide with the expansion of the Innovation Lab, or i.Lab, at UVa. Crews are working to construct a new, state-of-the-art incubator, which will be open to qualifying local, community start-ups.

Sommer says the pitch night will be just one of many opportunities for entrepreneurs to get involved in the incubator, a place for entrepreneurs to tap into its resources.

"So they come into the incubator, they get legal support, they get accounting support, they get space, we hook them up with mentors who will support their businesses and then we give them some cash to help them start their business get incorporated and really figure out, is this a business that will have traction and how do I grow it," said Sommer.

The two groups say they hope blending their shared goal of supporting fresh ideas will make Charlottesville a more innovative and entrepreneurial community.

Applications for the "U.Pitch. C'ville Decides." contest will be available mid-February.

Last year's inaugural festival drew a crowd of more than 6,700 people.

Beyer says a similar pitch night featured at the 2012 festival included start-up ideas ranging from catering companies to daycare businesses and web technology.

The Tom Tom Founders Festival kicks off April 11. To learn more about the festival and the contest, go to www.tomtomfest.com.

The expanded i.Lab facility will also formally open April 11.

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