The Tom Tom Founders Summit has been a hugely successful event, attracting adventurous entrepreneurs nationwide to shed light on their entrepreneurial successes to the Charlottesville community. This year, the Tom Tom Founders Festival staff found a new way to inspire us: hosting the first-ever Youth Summit. Nearly everyone involved in making the event happen was under the age of 25, including an audience of nearly 500 high school students. Modeled after the Founders Summit, the event included presentations from several young entrepreneurs, a student pitch competition, and keynote speeches from Charlottesville’s Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy and Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe.
The initiative was almost entirely student-led by a Student Advisory Council, which included 30 local high school students and a team of UVA student volunteers. Together, students chose speakers, coordinated student pitches, worked on event programming, and marketed the event to encourage high school students to attend. Interest in the Summit was largely generated through high school participants, who worked with their respective school administrators for approval and bussing. Meg Richey, a participant from Western Albemarle High School, remarked that although the committee consisted of multiple schools and students from different backgrounds, “We eventually functioned as a machine. The committee really came together to inspire and encourage each other; as the event grows, I hope the sense of purpose and community continues to flourish.”
For Kiernan DiMeglio, a participant from Albermarle High School and an aspiring entrepreneur, “the opportunity to meet people, and the talks I was able to see greatly educated me on the whole [entrepreneurial] process, and made me excited for where I can take my ideas!” Several of the student speakers incited a call for students to take ownership of their education, hoping to encourage students to “solve the problems of education and create the future of school,” indicated ReinventED Director Keaton Wadzinski.
And what better way to promote change than through local government? Other highlights of the event were motivational speeches from Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy and entrepreneur-turned-politician Governor Terry McAuliffe. “You can’t fail,” proclaimed Bellamy, to cheers and applause from an excited crowd. “Take ownership of your education – Don’t wait!” Bellamy, in addition to working towards a PhD in education and teaching computer science at Albemarle High School, started a youth mentoring and empowerment program called H.Y.P.E (Helping Young People Evolve) which serves the Charlottesville and Albemarle urban ring.
Finally, the charismatic Governor McAuliffe made an appearance, offering words of wisdom and even some legislative action by signing HB-1230 into law to improve protection of student intellectual property rights in higher educational institutions.
“The key to growth is innovators, entrepreneurs. And that’s why we’re here today.”