Beyer's market: Innovation rules at Tom Tom

Stopping by the Hook office two weeks before the second Tom Tom Founders Day Festival kicks off on April 11, it's clear festival organizer Paul Beyer is a busy man. In addition to putting the finishing touches on Tom Tom's big events, including a $10,000 community pitch night, 60 musical performances, and a series of talks by local innovators, there are the tiny details to attend to.

"The banners need to be tightened," says Beyer, peering through a window at the Tom Tom signs flapping on Downtown Mall lightpoles. Add one more thing to his "to-do" list.

While the length of this year's festival– four days– is a fraction of last year's month-long extravaganza, the number of events remains staggering, and Beyer, an NYU film school grad who ran for Charlottesville city council in 2011 at age 29, says the lessons he learned last year have been crucial in shaping the upcoming celebration.

"The single biggest thing is to let the community weigh in and let the idea prove itself and evolve naturally. Last year, we tried to throw a music festival, and we paid a lot for headliners," he says. "In a music-saturated town, that wasn't a good decision because it obscured the truly unheralded stories, which are innovation."

This year, Tom Tom is focused almost entirely on innovation, and Beyer is thrilled that UVA has thrown its weight behind the festival in a variety of ways. The Darden School is celebrating its expanded iLab, which now welcomes community members who'll vie for $10,000 in prizes in an April 11 community pitch night. The University is also using Tom Tom to further narrow student applicants for the $250,000 Galant Challenge, in which UVA students pitch their business plans to real investors. And of the two dozen Tom Tom speakers who'll present at The Haven on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the majority are affiliated with UVA–starting with President Teresa Sullivan, who'll give a talk titled "A Culture of Leadership: Leadership styles and how a culture of leadership strengthens an organization."

"UVA is involved because Tom Tom can promote this culture of Charlottesville as an innovative place where you want to start a business, stay and grow it," says Beyer, noting that that has not always been the case.

"Tech firms," he says, "find it hard to recruit and retain here." Beyer hopes Tom Tom's "dynamic, fun atmosphere" will directly fuel the tech and start-up fields in Charlottesville.

While there will be plenty of music at block parties happening around the city, the heart of the festival is the Tom Talks, and in the following pages you'll meet a few of those speakers who would be making waves no matter where they settled. And unlike the TEDx programs, which bring innovators to speak at cities around the globe, including Richmond last month, Tom Tom– named after Thomas Jefferson, of course– is strictly local.

"The idea is that every talk starts with an intro about how someone got to Charlottesville, then transitions into some of the research they're doing and then ends with how that research impacts the nation or the world."

Get ready for inspiration!

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