Regions Central Virginia

Festival’s aim is to encourage innovation

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli

More than flowers will be popping up this spring in Charlottesville. Some creative ideas may bloom, too, as a result of a festival aimed at encouraging entrepreneurs.

The city is gearing up for the Tom Tom Founders Festival, scheduled for downtown Charlottesville April 11-14. The event, meant to spur innovation in Charlottesville, is named after one of the city’s most famous innovators: Thomas Jefferson whose birthday, April 13, takes place during the festival run. There will be a laundry list of activities including live music, talks and creative sessions.

The event begins with a competition in which innovators pitch their ideas. U.Va.’s Batten Institute will award $10,000 in total to the top three competitors, who will be selected by event attendees. The competition will take place at the W.L. Lyons Brown III Innovation Laboratory (i.Lab) at the University of Virginia, which is opening its newly renovated facilities for this event.

Originally a classroom space to be used by graduate students at the Darden School of Business, the expanded i.Lab will offer a coffee shop and a business incubator, which will be open to the Charlottesville community. The incubator will include several conference rooms and offices.

“One of the unique things is that a lot of academic incubators are focused on the university, and we are trying to reach out to the community,” says Philippe L. Sommer, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Darden’s Batten Institute.

Two dozen companies already have been selected to be part of the incubator this summer. Sommer says 48 companies connected to Darden and the Charlottes­ville area applied for the program. The goal is to help Charlottesville become more of an entrepreneurial place, he says.

Program participants will get to participate in a law clinic in the spring. In the summer, they’ll be at the innovation lab for 10 weeks and receive $8,000 to use on their business. 

“My hope is that there will be lots of different kinds of incubators, depending on what people are interested in doing, and we will be one of many,” Sommer says about the incubator’s ultimate goal.


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