Sustainability innovations shared on local food, buildings, and autos
By Brian Wheeler
Thursday, April 26, 2012
The Tom Tom Founders Festival continued its series of weekly innovation talks Wednesday with a panel discussion examining Charlottesville-based entrepreneurs working in the field of sustainability and sustainable design.
“My interest was to bring a conversation around innovation to Charlottesville,” said Tom Tom co-founder Oliver Platts-Mills. “It is stylized after SXSW in Austin.”
Pam Haley, a former NASA engineer from the Tidewater area, said she came to the event because she has long been interested in innovation.
“I also came last week and was thrilled to see what’s going on in this community.,” said Haley. “This is why I left Tidewater.”
Haley, a nine-month resident of Charlottesville, added that before the Tom Tom festival, she had been reluctant to move her furniture into her new home.
“Last week was the first time I felt like I might be in the right place,” Haley said.
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Platts-Mills assembled a panel of five local innovators to share their experiences before a group of almost 40 people.
“Betty is a reinvented woman of the 1950s,” said Kent. “She doesn’t just tend her own kitchen, she tends the planet.”
Joey Conover is a Fifeville resident who grew up in Charlottesville. She co-founded, with her husband, Latitude 38, a design-build firm focusing on sustainable architecture.
“I’ve always been interested in urban design, urban planning, and Charlottesville,” said Conover. “After looking at how to improve small communities in Latin America, I realized that wasn’t my community, my community is here.”
“A core philosophy of our business is to build houses we would want to live in,” said Conover. “Some we have literally moved into and sold, all have been within the city limits. That’s what we do, we are skilled at infill development.”
Edison2 was founded by Charlottesville real estate developer Oliver Kuttner. It is working to design and manufacture lightweight, aerodynamic automobiles. In the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE competition in 2010, Kuttner’s Edison2 very light car won the top prize in its class and a $5 million award.
“It’s really difficult to go into the car business,” said Kuttner. “It’s a very mature billion dollar business.”
Kuttner says his company emphasizes use of traditional materials like aluminum and steel that can be easily recycled.
“We have an architecturally different way of building a car,” said Kuttner. “’Less is more’ drives everything for us.”
Kuttner said he doesn’t expect to compete with the big car companies in manufacturing.
“We want to be a company that teaches the large companies,” Kuttner said. “Our goal is to get one of those big companies to put their arm around us.”
Andrew Greene, the sustainability planner for the University of Virginia, described how the university is investing more energy in the local food movement.
“UVA is becoming more conducive to the [local food movement] and that’s driven a lot by the students,” said Greene. “The local food hub has brought some reliability… they provide some structure and simplify the process.”
Another panelist interested in local food is Ivy resident Allie Hill. After setting a goal of eating only local food for an entire year, Hill said she quickly discovered a major obstacle in the absence of local canned goods.
“I looked in my pantry and the grocery store and found very little,” Hill said. “I realized the missing link is food processing.”
Hill found an old underutilized cannery near Farmville to use to launch her business, Virginia Food Works.
“We are making strawberry preserves this week for the Rebecca’s food store,” Hill said. “We help local farmers get their products into local stores. We are trying to do it initially with an existing facility, because to build something new would cost $6-7 million.”
In the audience, self-described serial entrepreneur John Racine reflected on the company that brought him to Charlottesville 16 years ago. SNL Financial was then a small startup. Now it’s a major local employer with offices around the globe.
“Maybe the next SNL is somewhere in this room,” Racine said. “This is an example of the energy we have to drive things forward. I think these people have come up with some cool businesses to address problems here and elsewhere.”
The innovation series will continue over the next two weeks. The Tom Tom festival also includes a crowd-funded pitch night on Thursday May 3. Creative artists and entrepreneurs, who previously submitted proposals, will make their pitch and compete for a $1,000 prize.
The pitch night and the next innovation panel will both be at The Gleason, at 126 Garrett St. The May 2 panel will focus on the future of the local biotechnology industry.
Follow the Tom Tom innovation series at http://www.cvilletomorrow.org/TomTom .