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.
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.
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.
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.