Nelson makes his mark as catalyst for entrepreneurship


Editor’s Note: This October, we will celebrate our 30th class of 40 Under Forty honorees. Each week in 2022, The Business Journal of Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia will highlight one of our 2021 40 Under Forty honorees leading up to the announcement of our milestone class this fall.

For David Nelson, a successful career as an entrepreneur started with a moment of self-evaluation.

Nelson had a gift for working with computers and was dead set on a career in game development until those plans hit an unexpected snag.

“I was going to be a software engineer on that side,” Nelson recalled. “I tried to be an engineer, but I’m probably worse at math than any software engineer you’ve ever met. I really liked the people side, the business side, so I just fell into that.”

By redirecting his passion from software development to business development, Nelson has become a catalyst for the entrepreneurial ecosystem right here in Northeast Tennessee. Anyone looking to launch a business in our region has a friend, advisor and coach in Nelson, who started FoundersForge as a resource for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Nelson’s desire to help other stems from a principle he learned early on.

“There’s this idea ‘give before you get,’ and that’s just kind of been ingrained in me,” he said. “Early on, I didn’t understand that, but the more I leaned into that, the better things went for me. So the big part that motivates me is trying to give to others and trying to teach that cultural mindset to others in our region.”

In a letter of recommendation, Abraham McIntyre described Nelson someone looking for ways to “raise the tide and lift all boats.” Nelson said the chance to help others turn their ideas into viable businesses is a primary motivator in his life.

“There are so many people with great ideas that they never let get out of the shower or off the back of a napkin because they’re not willing to say, ‘Yes, I’m going to do it,’” Nelson said.

Nelson has done his best to make sure FoundersForge – which began as Startup Tri-Cities – evolves to suit the changing needs of local entrepreneurs. Ideas like Pitches and Pints encourage people to bring their ideas out into the open where they can inspire others who are looking to innovate.

Shannon Castillo calls Nelson a “doer” who is always available to help others, and she said his can-do attitude is contagious. The way Nelson sees it, the opportunity to develop his business ideas and help others do the same is a blessing he wouldn’t trade for anything.

“I’m doing something I’m meant to do, and I’m grateful every day I get to choose and do what I really want to be doing,” he said.

Next week we will profile Kelsey Niehoff of Eastman. If you would like to nominate someone for inclusion in the 2022 class of 40 Under Forty, visit and follow the instructions.

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