The Tom Tom Founders Festival and the i.Lab at the University of Virginia hosted the Crowdfunded Pitch Night. On Wednesday, April 13th, ten local artists, activists, and entrepreneurs came to The Paramount Theater stage to share their most innovative and fresh ideas to members of the Charlottesville community.
Each business or project leader(s) had just three minutes to share their vision with the live audience, vying for the spot as the crowd’s favorite contestant. The competitive night was filled with creative energy and excitement for contestants and crowd members alike. After the audience heard each pitch, they placed their bid for the most promising entrepreneur(s). The winner could take either the crowdfunded prize or a spot in the i.Lab, UVa’s startup accelerator program, which included a $5,000 expense budget, invaluable support from i.Lab’s technological experts, and mentorship from UVa’s Darden School of Business.
The competition was fierce, with ideas ranging from an eco-friendly bag fabric made of recycled products to a socially-conscious kilt company. Ultimately, the night’s winners were Clara Duffy and Leela Ghaemmaghami, two high school juniors who started Seniors Connect, a program to help older citizens use and understand technology. Duffy and Ghaemmaghami were inspired to create this project because their own grandparents frequently called them for help online. They soon realized there were over 7,000 other seniors in the Charlottesville area who could benefit from the same technological outreach and assistance. The two have not yet decided if they want the crowdfunded prize, which is a bit over $4,000, or the space in the i.Lab at UVa.
Ewa Harr, from Little Planets, came in second place. Her nature inspired play-spaces and playscapes provide eco-friendly, fun, and safe alternatives for families who need a break from the busyness of live events and festivals.
The emcee of the night was the Vice-Mayor of Charlottesville, Wes Bellamy. From his overwhelmingly joyful, yet slightly out of tune, singing of “Happy Birthday” to Paul Beyer, the founding director of the festival, to his quick selfie-op with the two 16-year-old contestants, Bellamy’s vibrant personality captivated the audience members throughout the entire night.
Crowdfunded Pitch Night helps innovative entrepreneurs and creatives follow their dreams. However, the prizewinners are not the only winners of the night. At every Tom Tom Founders Festival, local investors and business consumers of the Charlottesville community come to to lend their support, resources, and potential network to pitches that catch their eye. The other nine contestants may not have walked away with the first place title, but they had the invaluable experience of sharing their bright ideas to the community. Every year, the Pitch Night sparks new entrepreneurial links, connections, and opportunities for each pioneer, truly making Charlottesville America’s Founding City.