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Beth Stefanik
Associate Director of Communications & Media Relations
434.296.5106 (o)
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St. Anne's-Belfield School Students Win Tom Tom Festival Honors

Charlottesville, Va., April 20, 2016 – St. Anne’s-Belfield School juniors Leela Ghaemmaghami and Clara Duffy took a huge step forward with their budding business, Seniors Connect, when they won the Tom Tom Festival's Crowdfunded Pitch Night on April 14, 2016.

The fifth annual event was hosted with University of Virginia's iLab and brought together 10 local entrepreneurs and nonprofits to share three-minute business visions. For Seniors Connect, this includes increasing the technology proficiency of local senior citizens through assistance with setting up computers, tutoring, and troubleshooting.

"Leela and Clara are to be congratulated for this superb accomplishment," said David Lourie, head of St. Anne's-Belfield School. "They identified a growing need and matched it with a creative sustainable solution, which is important for success in any venture. And they are also just impressive young people who care about their community. The School is inspired by their accomplishment."

Seniors Connect grew out of an assignment the students received during a three-week intensive course at St. Anne's-Belfield School in the fall of 2014, developed and co-taught by Upper School teachers Sarah Swain, Marie Reed, and Associate Head of School for Advancement Warren Buford. The course, Social Entrepreneurship: Business Design that Makes a Difference, helped students build business plans with the help and mentorship of local entrepreneurs.

"Leela and Clara won the pitch competition in our inaugural entrepreneurship class," said Buford. "All of the students were exposed to entrepreneurial thinking and approaches, with the help of local entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders, and were challenged to present a business plan for a novel venture in our community."

During their course pitch, the girls hosted Ghaemmaghami's grandmother, at whose retirement community they conducted their fieldwork. Buford believes it was this type of in-depth research and planning that contributed to their recent success.

Ghaemmaghami and Duffy further honed their ideas during St. Anne's-Belfield School's SPARK hackathon in January 2016, which brought together more than 45 tech enthusiasts from seven area high schools. During the weekend they expanded their work to develop an app designed to assist users with their medication schedules. 

"We started the SPARK Hackathon because we knew that students wanted opportunities to solve real-world problems and creating technology is a powerful way to make that happen," said Kim Wilkens, St. Anne's-Belfield School's co-coordinator of the Computer Science Initiative.

"Leela and Clara started their entrepreneurial journey when they first founded Seniors Connect to provide tech support to seniors. They were able to bring more ideas for their business to life through app development, skills they began learning in their software engineering class, and were able to refine through their hackathon experience with mentors from the local tech community."

As the youngest-ever grand prize winners of the Crowdfunded Pitch Night, Ghaemmaghami and Duffy have the option to accept a prize or a mentorship opportunity with U.Va.'s iLab, the latter being their preferred option if schedules allow.

"Our participation in the evening felt surreal, especially because we won due to the support of people in the Charlottesville community," said Ghaemmaghami. "We look forward to continuing our business in the coming years."

Indeed, plans for expansion are already in the works.

"The next steps for our business are to use the funding to create an outreach program for lower income seniors, and to develop a variety of apps and other software which focus on ease of use for the elderly," said Duffy. "We have already begun both of these programs by partnering with local tech companies QuickFix and Locus Health."

Several more St. Anne's-Belfield School students received recognition at the Tom Tom Festival's April 15 Youth Summit. Juniors Junho Moon, Harry Gould, and Kurt Bertone won one of two prizes for the Build Your Own Business competition with their plan for ArtStep, an online platform that connects student artists with potential buyers. The idea for this business also originated in the School's Social Entrepreneurship course. 

For the Building Your Community Challenge, two sets of students each won a $250 grant and an invitation to participate in a WAGI.Lab mentoring program. Sophomore Jacob Lourie won for his idea to establish a program to bring local high school students together to support the performing arts, and sophomores Coco Wu and Jerry Yao, along with junior Eric Liu, won for their program, MountEDU, which connects rural students in China with students in America to enhance learning opportunities utilizing online technology. 

The entire sophomore and junior classes attended the first-ever Tom Tom Festival Youth Summit, and five St. Anne's-Belfield School students participated in the Advisory Committee to plan the event: Junho Moon '17, Erica Sullivan '16, Lucia Hoerr '18, Harry Gould '17 and Leela Ghaemmaghami '17. Alumnus Chris Long '04, Patriots' defensive end, also participated in the Festival's Innovation in Athletics discussion. 

"This year's Tom Tom Festival was a huge success, bringing together the Charlottesville community in new and exciting ways," said Lourie. "We were so pleased so many of our students could be a part of it, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Festival for all of the opportunities it provided to our students."



St. Anne’s-Belfield School is a co-educational preschool through grade 12 day school of more than 900 students and 120 faculty and staff, with a boarding program in grades 9 - 12. More than 20 countries are represented in the student body, with 38% of families receiving financial aid. More information may be found at

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