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March 06, 2017 | Tom Ballard

Startup Tri-Cities powered by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs

Start-up Tri-Cities2(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in our on-going series of articles spotlighting the Northeast Tennessee entrepreneurial ecosystem.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“We want to shorten the time it takes for start-ups in Northeast Tennessee to get to where we are,” Edwin Williams says.

The Johnson City native, whose latest venture is named Perserbid, has joined with three other entrepreneurs from either Johnson City or Kingsport to give back to their community through a new initiative that goes by the name of Startup Tri-Cities.

“We want to make the path easier so they don’t spend a year and a half making connections and building their support system,” Williams says of what we have found to be a robust group of entrepreneurs in the region.

David Nelson, another one of those behind Startup Tri-Cities and a Co-Founder of BrewFund, says that the foursome “came together as a driving force. Nobody else other than an entrepreneur will truly understand what you are doing. We want to be the neutral party that brings everyone together.”

It’s all about connecting people and providing support that is needed to grow the ecosystem.

In addition to Nelson and Williams, the other entrepreneurs behind Startup Tri-Cities are Travis Rother, Co-Founder of BrewFund, and Arnab Chakraborty, Co-Founder of Flow MedTech. His start-up was recently profiled in this article, and both BrewFund and Perserbid are in the publishing queue for articles in the near term.

Two of the team members – Nelson and Rother – grew-up outside the region, while Chakraborty and Williams returned recently after living elsewhere. Over several months, they met each other and, with their knowledge of other entrepreneurial ecosystems, they recognized the start-up potential in the area and saw a real need to better connect entrepreneurs.

The success of their first entrepreneur-focused event called “Pitches & Pints,” held last October and attended by more than 100 people, propelled them to officially launch Startup Tri-Cities.

Their goal is simple: increase the number of successful start-ups in the region.

“We see ourselves as a precursor to CO.STARTERS,” Nelson explains in citing the program developed by Chattanooga’s CO.LAB. “Let’s get people through a series of steps and double or triple the number of start-ups here.”

One of their strengths is the diversity of their individual start-ups; another is their willingness to share credit for success.

“We are three different companies in three different sectors,” Nelson says. As such, they bring different perspectives to the table.


“We don’t care about who gets the credit. It’s all about the community,” Nelson says. To illustrate their philosophy, the Startup Tri-Cities team is working with AccelNow, a local entrepreneurial support organization; The Angel Roundtable; East Tennessee State University; and local young professional organizations.

At least for now, they view Venture Asheville as a good model. Albeit without the two full-time staffers that the North Carolina group has.

“It (Startup Tri-Cities) would not have the same appeal to us if this was a full-time job,” Rother observes. He believes that Startup Tri-Cities success is possible, because entrepreneurs are the driving force. It’s much easier to network start-ups with each other.

The new organization is hosting informational workshops and networking events on a regular basis. Startup Tri-Cities has also signed-up more than 225 people on its website. You can learn more about these on the organization’s website.

In addition to supporting entrepreneurs, the co-founders also see that part of their role is community awareness and buy-in for entrepreneurship. One example was the numerous questions they received from some who did not understand what a pitch was when the October event was being promoted.

“Many local residents don’t have a history and understanding of entrepreneurship,” Williams says.

“What’s stopping us from being the next Silicon Valley,” Chakraborty asks? The group’s answer is the region has amenities like outdoor resources that hotspots like Boulder, CO have to attract entrepreneurs without the high cost of living. By working together as a community, Startup Tri-Cities can propel entrepreneurship to new heights.

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