Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 5/10/16. Christopher Cummings, founder of Pass It Down, speaks about his storytelling product while at the Camp House in downtown Chattanooga on Tuesday, May 10, 2016.
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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 5/10/16. Christopher Cummings, founder of Pass It Down, speaks about his storytelling product while at the Camp House in downtown Chattanooga on Tuesday, May 10, 2016.

Storytelling festival

- Chattanooga startup Pass It Down is part of this year's National Storytelling Festival, produced by the International Storytelling Center.

- What: National Storytelling Festival

- When: Oct. 7-9

- Where: Jonesborough, Tenn., and Pass It Down's digital component can be accessed remotely at

For more information on the festival see

The International Storytelling Center has tapped Chattanooga startup Pass It Down to run a digital storytelling campaign for its signature event this weekend.

The nonprofit organization hosts the annual National Storytelling Festival through Sunday, in Jonesborough, where it's also based.

Plenty of tale-telling will be in-the-flesh. But Pass It Down will offer an additional component online to draw stories and sharing from anywhere.

"I've been longing for a platform that ties into that ancient oral tradition of storytelling but can use modern technology as a mechanism and tool to enable us to connect," said Kiran Sirah, the executive director of the International Storytelling Center.

Pass It Down built its brand on the sharing of memories through storytelling. Its component for the event,, went live before the weekend and coincides with the startup's public beta phase.

"In the last three years I've really sort of pushed expanding digital applications, from exploring collaboration with TEDx to recording devices to mobile apps," Sirah said. Indeed, that's noted in the organization's mission statement.

Pass It Down founder and CEO Christopher Cummings hadn't ever been to a storytelling festival, but every few weeks people he talked to mentioned the national one, he said.

"It just kept happening enough that I had to look into it," said Cummings.

Cummings and Sirah hit it off, both men said.

"I loved the way he was talking about the platform," Sirah said. "It meshed with our mission – to promote the power of stories."

They also were both intrigued by the idea of having everybody answer one question: What is your first memory?

Sirah said the festival has attracted 10,000 to 11,000 attendees in recent years, with some 35,000 others streaming the event live from as far as Russia. The festival, now in its 44th year, grew from what was regarded as the world's first public event devoted exclusively to storytelling.

The event is known to bring in some well-known storytellers – Piper Kerman, the true character behind Netflix series Orange is the New Black, for example — and storytellers of other sorts: ex-ministers, comedians, cowboy poets, blues poets.

The International Storytelling Center isn't just about entertainment, though. It also does work in the health and education realms, Sirah said. The organization describes itself as "an educational and cultural institution dedicated to building a better world through the power of storytelling."

Likewise, Pass It Down revolves around the power of people telling their stories, in many cases to preserve them for posterity, as the company's name implies. The startup offers a free digital storytelling platform that lets users create personal stories by using photos, text, audio and videos.

Cummings says the company, founded in spring 2015, raised $235,000 in its seed round and plans to seek another $500,000 to $750,000.

It was recently a finalist for the Miller Lite Tap the Future contest, which had more than 10,000 applicants and a $200,000 top prize. Cummings said he was waiting to see if his company would prevail before embarking on fundraising. (Chattanooga startup Bellhops won several years ago.)

This week, Pass It Down found out that it made the cut for the Techweek New York startup competition, which takes place next week, Cummings said. Earlier this year, Pass It Down won the Audience Choice award at the Aging2.0 Austin Global Startup Search pitch event.

Pass It Down's work with the festival represents its first joint campaign.

"We're trying to help brands or organizations tell stories around a particular cause or topic," Cummings said. His company is in talks with several well known "brands or names" to roll out similar campaigns, he said, declining to name them.

Contact Mitra Malek at or