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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tomtoberfest comes to a close

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Posted: Saturday, September 28, 2013 11:06 pm | Updated: 1:24 pm, Mon Sep 30, 2013.

The second annual Tomtoberfest — a fall preview of Charlottesville’s spring Tom Tom Founders Festival — wrapped up Saturday at the University of Virginia.

Entrepreneurship was the focus of Saturday’s lineup of events. Local programming company WillowTree  Apps joined local nonprofits and UVa students in the OpenGrounds building to kick off a new competition: Apps That Matter.

The competition is aimed at bringing students interested in programming together with nonprofits interested in having a smartphone app. Students, mostly in the engineering department, met with organizations, such as the Piedmont Center for the Arts, to talk about the organizations’ needs.

Second-year engineering student Elizabeth Kukla, who helped organize the event, said the idea was to “connect the entrepreneurial spirit with the community.” To do that, they had to break down the barriers between the university and the rest of the city, she said.

“It is sometimes sort of a bubble,” Kukla said.

That was one of the driving ideas behind Tomtoberfest itself, said Paul Beyer, the event’s director and founder. Unlike the much-larger spring festival, Tomtoberfest is centered mostly on Grounds, where he hopes to encourage students thinking of starting a new venture to reach out to the community.

A few students who had already begun their own ventures set up tables at the Founders Fair in the university’s amphitheater, where students and visiting family took a break from Family Weekend activities.

Ares Manos, a third-year student at the Darden School of Business, and recent graduate Kim McMasters were there on behalf of GigDog, a new streaming radio service started by fellow graduate J.R. Gentle.

The service helps users discover bands and musicians playing in their area. The user enters his city of residence and his favorite genres of music; the website streams musicians scheduled to play in upcoming shows at local venues.

“It’s a promotional service for the 21st century,” Manos said.

The company got some help from Darden, but it’s still shaky — it’s supported by a network of unpaid interns — but the students want to eventually turn it into a paid subscription service.

First, they need to expand it: GigDog currently serves a few cities throughout the South, including Nashville and Atlanta, but with more funding, Manos said, it could include the entire East Coast.

“We’re just looking for funding to take it to the next level,” he said, but said the company’s headquarters is still Charlottesville.

Beyer wants to see more of that kind of innovation staying in Charlottesville. The university is a breeding ground for new business ideas but most students will leave the area after graduation. The community has to find a way to keep them here, he said.

“The university is the intellectual powerhouse of the region and they’re moving to commercialize more of their research,” Beyer said. “The city and the county need to be receptive incubators.”

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