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January 30, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Startup TriCities has a new name – FoundersForge – and a more defined and targeted focus

It’s a new name – FoundersForge – and a more defined and more targeted focus for the organization that until last night was known as Startup TriCities.

The new brand, greater emphasis on technology start-ups, and expanded programming were unveiled at a celebration held at Spark Plaza in Downtown Johnson City. The changes come nearly three years after the organization was founded as we described in this March 2017 article in

“When we launched Startup TriCities, we were just coming off the first ‘Pitches & Pints’ event,” said David Nelson, a key player in FoundersForge and one of the four people who launched the original organization. “There was a real thirst for entrepreneurship in the region. During year three, we decided we needed to evolve to better suit our growing ecosystem.”

The result is what he calls “an entirely new strategy” that is more reflective of other ways the region has evolved in 36 months. They include new branding (Appalachian Highlands) for economic development efforts that also include Southwest Virginia and the just announced addition of Sync.Space in Kingsport to Launch Tennessee’s Entrepreneur Network.

“We believe in underdog entrepreneurs in the Appalachian Highlands and the importance of helping them with their entrepreneurial journey,” Nelson explained. “We explored what we can do to be more impactful.” The answer was high-impact events.

The previously referenced “Pitches & Pints” annual competition will be modified to a monthly session where entrepreneurs can pitch ideas and get immediate feedback as well as in the future. For those who are already in business, the periodic “Tech Founders Meet-ups” will be scheduled every month going forward, and they will now connect existing Chief Executive Officers with tech founders. Finally, in late 2020, FoundersForge plans a hackathon that will bring together entrepreneurs, creatives, business and industry representatives, and start-up support organizations. The likely topic for the initial hackathon is solutions that make an impact on the most challenging issues our region is facing.

“This is not just rebranding, but refocusing,” Nelson explains as he outlines four long-term “lofty goals” as he describes them. They are to have a 1000-attendee start-up event in the region in the next decade, spawn 10 very successful tech-based start-ups in the decade, have a total of 100 tech start-ups in the region in 10 years, and bring more angel and venture capital to those start-ups.

In addition to Nelson, other members of the FoundersForge board of directors include Rodolphe Pierre-Louis, Founder of, a special effects company that is based in Johnson City; Karlee Goodwin who ran community development at the Atlanta Tech Village before moving to Northeast Tennessee; Ryan Hayes, Founder of TriDev, the region’s premiere meet-up for software developers; and Jose Castillo, a motivational speaker and Founder of Spark Plaza, a Downtown Johnson City co-working community. Two other local entrepreneurs who helped launch Startup TriCities – Edwin Williams and Arnab Chakraborty – are now heading-up community outreach and mentorship development for FoundersForge.

We talked briefly with Pierre-Louis who relocated from Miami to Johnson City and launched ActionVFX in June 2016. He sees great value in the tighter focus on helping tech-based companies.

“At the time I started ActionVFX, I was not well-connected to the local entrepreneurial community,” Pierre-Louis said. “I recognized the need to have a better-connected community, particularly for tech companies. This is a great area to start a business, and FoundersForge will only make it better.”

He added that he sees a great benefit from the effort for students who will be graduating from East Tennessee State University and Milligan College.

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