StartupTri rebrands as FoundersForge, reprioritizes entrepreneurship support efforts

By Scott Robertson

One of the leading entrepreneurial support efforts in the region is making major changes in an effort to gain greater relevance and expand its ability to serve to a regional scale. The former StartupTri announced at a news conference at Spark Plaza in Johnson City Jan. 30 it is rebranding to become FoundersForge (#StartTheForge,, @foundersforge).

“Four years ago, Startup Tri-Cities initially began as a single event, Pitches and Pints, and it was created by several entrepreneurs that wanted to see more of these types of events happening in our region,” explained David Nelson, co-founder. “Four years later, the growth of the entrepreneurship landscape has grown and changed in exciting ways. This made us realize that we needed to rethink our impact and create a strategic plan on how best to move forward.”

The first necessary change, Nelson said, was to the name of the organization. “Our original mission was to represent the region and push entrepreneurs and the supporting organizations to connect with each other to help startups across our region. With the new push for regionalism we felt our name represented the opposite of this focus.”

The second change was to the flagship event, Pitches and Pints. “Instead of focusing all of our energy on big showy events, we’re focusing on monthly events to curate ideas, teach others how to pitch them, and on validating concepts before jumping into a startup full time,” Nelson said.

That refocusing of Pitches and Pints from an annual event to a monthly one leaves the organization free to pursue other courses of action in the event space, Nelson added. “We are also organizing hackathons with the local developers’ meetup, TriDev.”

There will be a new annual event, a three-day hackathon currently dubbed the Manhattan Project of the Appalachian Highlands. “Our goal is to bring our industry professionals together with local entrepreneurs, software developers, and other creatives to solve our regions toughest problems,” Nelson said. “Similar to a Startup Weekend, we will form teams to create real world solutions to the proposed problems and while the developers build the demos, the business side of each team will validate a business model and sales/marketing plan for the final presentation. Best of all, the fundraise we are doing for this event will go toward helping the winning concepts be implemented.”

“When you bring people together from diverse backgrounds incredible solutions to once impossible problems come to light. High-impact events like this spawn deep creativity, new ventures, and a stronger network we can all use to continue to make improvements in the region where we all live and love.”

FoundersForge’s long-term goals are based on a ten-year model, Nelson said. “We are working to have 10 successful high growth startups in our region 10 years or less. Within that 10 years we want to have at least 100 high-growth startups in existence. And last, we want to help build an entrepreneurship event that has 1,000 people in attendance.”

ActionVFX founder Rodolphe Pierre Louis, a member of the FoundersForge board, told the crowd of around 100 entrepreneurs and community supporters at the news conference, “Starting any type of business is very hard, and it can be even harder if you don’t have the right assistance, especially at the beginning. So, just being able to be part of something that will connect local entrepreneurs to the proper resources, the incubators, the proper funding, even just to the community as a whole is very important to me. Also, the idea of retaining local talent has definitely been a big part of it.”

“Sometimes as an entrepreneur you can feel very alone,” Pierre Louis said. “But the truth is, we’re not alone. And the more we connect as a community, the more we can grow as a community.”

Added Jose Castillo, founder of Spark Plaza, a co-working space in downtown Johnson City, “this is not something brand new. This is 20 years in the making. We have people on this team that have been working in entrepreneurship and start-ups for years and years and years in this region. We have finally come together at the right time, with the right people and the right approach.”

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