Tom Tom is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to celebrate and empower the founders of creative, civic, and entrepreneurial projects. Each April over Thomas Jefferson’s birthday week (April 13), Charlottesville’s historic downtown is reimagined as a creative canvas, with dozens of venues participating. Like the founding polymath, Tom Tom explores diverse disciplines – society, education, energy, food, and technology — and links the rich history of the City with an exploration into the future.
Ultimately, the festival seeks to leave lasting legacies of creativity throughout Charlottesville through public art and business formation.
In 2015, Tom Tom featured dozens of events, including six free block parties, a farm-to-table restaurant week, four pitch competitions, and a public art series. Tom Tom also hosted a Founders Summit, a day of talks headlined by the entrepreneurs behind Reddit, The Container Store, Maker Faire, and Chromat. Overall attendance exceeded 26,600 and featured 391 organizations.
Tom Tom Founders Festival was launched in 2012 as a month-long music festival. In the following and subsequent year, Tom Tom condensed the programming to a long weekend, expanded its entrepreneurial and tech offerings, and entered into a presenting partnership with the University of Virginia. To date, the festival has attendance of approximately 78,000 with 260 bands, 224 speakers, dozens of artists and installations, and nearly $700,000 of seed capital invested through Tom Tom events.
WHAT DOES THE NAME MEAN?
“Tom Tom” is a friendly nod toward Thomas Jefferson, author of The Declaration of Independence, founder of the University of Virginia, architect of Monticello, and Third President of the United States. Jefferson was a visionary farmer, winemaker, art patron, and inventor. Tom Tom connects Jefferson’s revolutionary legacy with the difficult and visionary work of founders today.
WHAT’S WITH THE BUFFALO?
The buffalo is a symbol of the frontier. Lewis and Clark returned from their exploration of the American West with a buffalo hide displaying Native American painting and cartography. Thomas Jefferson sponsored their historic journey, and this hide now hangs in the foyer of Jefferson’s home Monticello, as a reminder of the value of American risk-taking.
WHY IS TOM TOM FREE?
Tom Tom’s strength is that it brings people with diverse perspectives and passions together. Keeping the majority of the Festival’s events free makes that possible. Everyone is welcome to participate, be inspired, and have fun at Tom Tom.
WHO RUNS TOM TOM?
Tom Tom staff includes a mix of full, parttime, freelance, and volunteer professionals in marketing, production, programming, design, and other fields. The festival’s director, Paul Beyer, is also the Founder of Tom Tom. Tom Tom’s programming and strategic choices are made with the input of its board. Finally, Tom Tom would be completely impossible without the time and energy of the nearly 200 individuals who volunteer at the Festival each year. Complete list of Staff & Board.
SO SERIOUSLY, HOW’D THIS THING GET STARTED?
Ok, here’s a quick run through of our history!
2012 – CONCEPT – Tom Tom Founders Festival was born from a question: how can an event catalyze Charlottesville to generate new ventures, products, and visions of its future? In just five months, the first Tom Tom Founders Festival was launched. It began as a month-long experiment on April 13, Founders Day. It aimed to create an atmosphere of ground-up, community oriented, and experimental creativity. Thirty days of free art and innovation programming concluded with a ticketed music festival. Altogether, the Festival tried dozens of events and 8,700 participants rallied around the idea of Charlottesville as a creative hub and a stage for new ideas.
2013 – REFINE – Tom Tom’s programming committee reworked the Festival’s spring event into 4 packed days of free block parties, talks, pitch competitions, art installations, and concerts. The Festival continued to enjoy the support of hundreds of volunteers from across the community, and partnered with over 330 community organizations on programming. That spring, Tom Tom filed for 501c3 nonprofit status and entered into a presenting partnership with the University of Virginia, a major step in linking Grounds with the Charlottesville and Albemarle communities. In spring 2013, Tom Tom brought 13,600 attendees Downtown and seeded $175,000 in funding to local startups.
2014 – FOCUS – In Spring 2014, Tom Tom positioned itself for regional growth by solidifying its mission as a Founders Festival. It hosted 116 speakers, 50 of whom were founders of their companies or organizations. Tom Tom also hosted 75 bands and 61 artist vendors at 31 venues, as well as 5 works of large-scale public art. At the Festival’s entrepreneurial competitions, over $500,000 of investment capital was offered to new ventures. Attendance exceeded 16,600 for these events. In the fall of 2014, the inaugural Founding Cville initiative highlighted 18 founders within the Charlottesville community, and Tom Tom’s Fall Block Party welcomed over 6,000 visitors. Tom Tom’s total annual economic impact on the community of Charlottesville was $843,000. 2014 was also a year of administrative milestones for Tom Tom, including financial stability.
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