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Tom Tom Founders Festival returns for fourth year

Marriage of innovation, entertainment continues

<p>Tom Tom Founders Festival, which kicks off today, aims to bring entrepreneurs from the University and community together. This year's festival, in particular, focuses on local food. </p>

Tom Tom Founders Festival, which kicks off today, aims to bring entrepreneurs from the University and community together. This year's festival, in particular, focuses on local food. 

The 2015 Tom Tom Founders Festival will take place April 13-19 in Downtown Charlottesville. Spearheaded in 2012, the festival embraces the unique spirit of entrepreneurship and combines it with a hefty schedule of events.

Tom Tom Founder Paul Beyer began Tom Tom as a music festival, which took place over the course of multiple weeks. He and the staff have since refined it into a week-long event and anticipate over 20,000 attendees this year.

“It’s slowly but surely gotten more condensed, but also more packed,” said third-year College student Alyssa Dizon, Tom Tom student outreach coordinator. “It’s now only a week long but it has so many verticals that it didn’t before.”

The festival will include events centered around art, music and innovation, as well as an increased focus on local food.

“Charlottesville is renowned for its food — especially its local food — so to be able to celebrate that in conjunction with music and art and entrepreneurship in general is really exciting,” Dizon said. “One of the luncheons for the Founder’s Summit is all about food entrepreneurs so we have some leaders in the local food movement, professors, entrepreneurs, funders, [coming] together to talk about how we make sustainable food more of a thing in this area.”

The festival aims to strike a balance between educational and fun events for all ages.

“If Tom Tom were just a party, it wouldn’t be very interesting,” Beyer said. “That said, if it weren’t a party, it would be completely meaningless.”

Beyer said Tom Tom brings individuals from various corners of Charlottesville together.

“It’s one of the only times [you] see young families with founders of companies with old hippies that are art lovers with first year students, fourth year students, and the variety of artistic and creative people in Charlottesville and they’re all at these events,” Beyer said.

Dizon said Tom Tom allows visitors — especially students — to explore new areas of interest without investing a lot of time in a University seminar or CIO.

“There are also lots of U.Va. professors who are really involved,” Dizon said. “It engages U.Va. in a really interesting way and allows students and faculty to have this dialogue off Grounds with other audiences that you wouldn’t necessarily come into contact with.”

The entrepreneurial and innovative spirit Tom Tom hopes to impart to attendees is reflected in their own organization.

“The whole idea of founding an entrepreneurship [always involves] kind of scrappy people that just make things work and get things done and I think that’s one of the things that Tom Tom has always excelled at,” Beyer said. “We get a lot done for very little.”

This year, the festival received a $50,000 tourism grant from the state of Virginia and is gaining recognition outside of Charlottesville.

Beyer said he looks forward to Saturday’s Founders Summit — an event which gathers nationally recognized entrepreneurs to share their stories of spearheading creative, entrepreneurial and civic projects.

“To have such a cool, premier event that’s really setting the stage for TomTom to be more of a national thing and less of a regional thing because we have so many incredible speakers coming [is spectacular],” Dizon said.

Beyer said students are the lifeblood of any place.

“It’s really important that the University and the community interact more,” Beyer said. “It’s the type of thing where the city should be a true city that’s engaging with ideas from the University and the University is getting the diversity from being in an urban place.”

While the staff and the Charlottesville community look forward to what’s in store for 2015, they are already thinking about future festivals.

“For right now, I think the limit does not exist for what TomTom can do,” Dizon said. “I think we’re in a really great high growth stage.”