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FoundersForge (previously Startup Tri-Cities)
Johnson City, Washington County, Tennessee 37601

County (ARC Region) Washington
State (ARC Region) Tennessee


Q1. Mission:

FoundersForge’s Mission:
We believe in the Underdog Entrepreneurs in the Appalachian Highlands and helping them on their Startup Journeys. Our mission is to be the catalyst behind all successful Startups in the Appalachian Highlands.

This is Accomplished By:
– Entrepreneurship community development with high-impact programming that teaches the concepts that Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and Boulder (CO) use every day
-Technology centric workforce development and training for those interested in these fields
-Entrepreneurship Community Development through events and utilizing the creative spaces in our region to bring people together

Our region is ready for new opportunities that will change their lives and the community around them.

Q2. How organization aligns with ARC’s Plan & Goals:

Founders Forge’s mission and goals align closely with most (1,2, 4, & 5) of the ARC’s current strategic plan. Here is why:

  1. FoundersForge’s mission is to foster Entrepreneurial growth by growing our Startup ecosystem, providing high-impact events/training, and utilizing the creative spaces to bring people together that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to meet. This has fostered the Entrepreneurial growth in Boulder, Silicon Valley, Greenville (SC), Atlanta, and other cities across the country. We know this works because the FoundersForge board comes from many of these regions and ecosystems.To date, we’re already known for hosting our region’s largest Startup Pitch competition, as well as the Small Business Festival for the last 4 years. We also plan and host workshops throughout the year to teach people the concepts of Entrepreneurship.

    And we did this all through a volunteer effort by the local Startup community. But it’s not enough. We chose to form a 501(c)3 to fundraise and operate beyond what volunteers can provide. Our region needs strong intervention with our Startups, education, workforce development, and job opportunities to strengthen our region’s economic opportunities and potential. We’ve come so far already, now imagine what we can do as a fully funded organization.

  2. There is a belief in this region that Entrepreneurship “can’t be done here.” Unfortunately, our region doesn’t know that it was built on top of Entrepreneurship and innovation and that it is already happening here. Since we’ve become a 501(c)3, we’ve indexed 39 high-growth Startups in our region. As we continue to showcase these individuals and companies, we are changing this mindset.Our region also lacks a technology and Entrepreneurship centric education. East Tennessee State University is just now putting together an Entrepreneurship minor program, and we’re helping them create this.

    In the United States, there is a lack of software developers and the ones our local colleges train have to leave to find jobs. We need to train and re-train our workforce in technology jobs to meet this demand while creating new job opportunities in technology, software consulting, and other innovative fields. We are currently building up partnerships and fundraising to open The Forge Coding Academy and The Forge DevShop to attach this problem on both fronts.

  3. While this goal does not align with FoundersForge’s mission, we are continuing to promote and partner with all fiber internet endeavors, especially in rural areas. This connectivity will open the door to new innovation coming from an untapped rural perspective.
  4. The mountains in the Appalachian Highlands is an incredible draw to outdoor enthusiasts. Entrepreneurs love the outdoors and it has become a requirement to have access to hiking, biking, and other adventure sports that our region easily provides. By leveraging our natural resources, we can continue to attract new talent to the region.
    Our natural resources also create new opportunities in in outdoor recreation Entrepreneurship. We are already seeing this with local Startups like and in our region. We plan to keep investing time and energy into these types of companies because we know that the best way to protect our natural resources is to help others experience them responsibly.
  5. Currently, ~45% of our region is categorized as ALICE households. This clearly needs to change. In the more rural areas around us, coal and railroad job loss has had a massive negative impact on Appalachia as well as our region. We plan to create new opportunities through software development and Entrepreneurship training for anyone with an interest in these fields.

Many companies need basic, entry-level software coders to help build and maintain their existing infrastructure. They don’t all need software engineers. The demand in the software development field has created a new opportunity that makes what you have already built matter more than a specific degree.

As the demand for software developers grows, it’s critical that our local workforce has the opportunity to be trained in these fields. Software development jobs are now being called the construction jobs of the future and every company, school, and government entity is going to need at least one within the next decade.

This is why we are working on starting The Forge Coding Academy, a coding academy that is open to anyone with an interest in becoming an entry level software developer. We’re partnering with instructors and industry professionals with a vast background in software development to build a program that can train our workforce. One of our instructors currently works remotely with Apple and plans to start teaching classes on the side while we continue to set this program up.

The Forge’s mission is to train people to be entry level software developers from the basics to advanced techniques. This intensive program will be open to anyone with the drive to complete the program. It will require a fee to attend but we hope to provide scholarships to many of the attendees through our job placement partners.

Simply creating a coding academy isn’t enough.

We don’t want to train our local workforce and then require them to seek jobs outside of Appalachia. We need them to stay and gain their experience here. This is why FoundersForge is also creating The Forge DevShop. We will hire our graduates to work on government software contracts, Entrepreneurial minimal viable products, and local government needs. This endeavor will be lead by our Director, David Nelson. David has created and successfully led a software consulting company for almost 15 years. He has worked with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs on large scale scientific visualization and their work on veteran homelessness was even briefed to the Whitehouse staff in 2012.

By utilizing his leadership and experience, we can provide a highly competitive rates while providing real world experience to the graduates. As we continue to build products, we’ll also be able to provide services to the local Entrepreneurship community at very low rates to help launch startups in our region. And every dollar spent by companies, local government, and private corporations will go towards workforce development and Entrepreneurship activity in the region.

This is a large undertaking that we feel fits directly in-line with Appalachian Regional Commission’s strategic plan. We are currently working on Entrepreneurship development while we continue to build partnerships, fundraise, and connect with our region’s greatest assets: our people. We need your help to operate more effectively as a 501(c)3 non-profit and we look forward to learning from this program.

Q3. IRS Filing Status: 501(c)(3)   

Q4. Unit or Chapter of Larger Organization: No

Q5. Employees:

Full-Time/Part-Time Employees: 0/0 (as of 9/1/2020)

Full-Time/Part-Time Employees: 0/0 (as of 12/31/2019)

Current Year Income/Expenses: $94,000/$80,000

Q6. Fiscal Year: Calendar

Q7. Budget Level

Last Fiscal Year Income/Expenses (Actual): $0 / $0

Current Year Income/Expenses (Projected): $94,000 / $80,000

Q8. Restricted Reserves (Amount): No ($)

Q9. CARES Act Funding (Amount): No ($)
Received From:   Date Received:
For What Purpose(s):

Q10. Negative Impacts from COVID-19:

Our organization launched as a 501(c)3 organization with incredible community support. We were in the middle of fundraising with private companies, our local healthcare organizations, colleges, and our cities. We were on track to launch without having to seek out grants. However, all of our funding opportunities were initially put on hold across the board and we’ve had to reinvent our strategy from the ground up. However, we will now be receiving $94,000 by the end of November from the City of Johnson City and some local partner organizations.

COVID has also created an unexpected change for our organization. The need for workforce development, job training, and Entrepreneurial activity is greater than it has been in a long time. Our founding team experienced the challenges and opportunities of the 2008 financial crisis, and we understand that if we act today, we can change the future for our region. We have greatly accelerated our funding goals to support our future programming plans to launch The Forge, and provide the training our region needs.

Yes, everything is very difficult right now for most of Appalachia. However, we also have a massive opportunity to accelerate our region’s future. In 2008-2012, some of the greatest known startups were born (Uber/Lyft, Stripe, AirB&B, etc). If we make an impact in our region today, we’ll have an entirely new tomorrow for our communities. The next great Startup can, and should, come from Appalachia. And we’re ready to be the catalyst behind the scenes to make it happen.

Q11. Top Three Concerns:
We are afraid our funding issues will prevent us from being able to hire the talent we’ve been recruiting
We are afraid we will miss this opportunity to make an impact on our community
We are worried that our Entrepreneurial ways will create issues in the non-profit operations if we don’t truly understand them

How Participation in Program Will Address Concerns:

We believe this program will help us in four critical areas:

  1. Our organization has been built by Entrepreneurs. While this is an extreme asset, it can also be a detriment to a non-profit’s operations. We want to ensure our operations are organized and run appropriately while we “move fast”
  2. We want to make sure our financial plan is in place to make the most of the initial $94,000 that we are receiving and to have our future plans set for the future funds we are seeking
  3. We want to have a better understanding of fundraising as a non-profit and what our limitations/expectations should be. We have learned that this is a very different world than raising venture capital.
  4. We’re looking for support, feedback, and analysis on our plans to become a self-sustaining organization. Constantly looking for the next grant or funding to keep the lights on is not a successful strategy for any entity to pursue. We have plans to become fully self-sustaining with in 3 years through the work that The Forge DevShop can provide.


Q12. Applying as a Proposed Cohort? No

Q13. Executive Director or CEO Will Participate in the Program? Yes

Q14. Top Two Choices for Cohort Instruction:

Course #1 Choice: 1-Fundraising

Course #2 Choice: 2-Mission & Operations

Q15. Desired Course Schedule for Cohort Instruction:

#1 Desired Course Schedule: 1-Fall 2020: 6-Week Course (Nov. 9, 2020 – Dec. 18, 2020)

#2 Desired Course Schedule: 2-Winter 2021 A: 5-Week Course (Jan. 25, 2021 – Feb. 28, 2021)


Name: David Nelson, Director

Application Approved by Organization Director or CEO? Yes, Approved by Executive Director/CEO

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