2023 Impact Report

FoundersForge became a nonprofit right before the shutdowns began in 2020. Although the timing for launching a nonprofit entrepreneurial center was less than ideal, it was a critical time for the businesses that our Startup community rallied to support. That was a big year of impact, but it was only the beginning. In 2021, we kicked off our Startup Bootcamp program that helped launch 38 new high-growth companies in our region. Most of these are still active today. In 2022, we ran 52 events and programs that focused on building the Startup community. Every week for the entire year, aspiring and growing entrepreneurs could attend an event centered around building their business. But the impact of all of these years combined amount to a fraction of FoundersForge’s impact on the community in 2023.

As we look ahead into 2024, we can already see that this year will be the biggest year yet! Our region has some very exciting opportunities coming to the Startup and Small Business community. And while growth also presents challenges, we recognize the potential for local entrepreneurs to capitalize on the opportunities it brings. Many of our 70+ Startups and 150+ Small Businesses are reaching a crucial point where growth means diving deep into their business models and seizing available resources to take them to the next level. Our mission in 2024 is to help amplify our region’s entrepreneurs and help them take their businesses to the next level.

Let’s take a look at the impact we had on 2023…

The Impact by FoundersForge

Companies Impacted

Coaching Sessions

Event RSVPs

Companies Impacted

Coaching Sessions

Event RSVPs

We Are Helping Founders Reach Their Summit

The Startup Mountain Summit was the first Startup conference in our region and is now the premiere conference for early-stage Startups in the Southeast. The inaugural event exceeded our expectations, and 2024’s Summit planning is well underway. The event combines incredible speakers that provide inspiration, actionable insights, and the latest tools Founders can use to launch, build, and grow their ventures. Learn more at the Startup Mountain Summit Website.

Attended the Summit


Outside Our Region

States Represented



Moving to Our Region


Farthest State

The Summit Generated an Estimated $4k for Local Businesses

“The conference is very professionally done. The speakers you had were absolutely amazing. And there was ample amount of time to network and meet new people. Also, the location (Johnson City) is beautiful and the people who were at the conference were incredibly friendly.”

– Anonymous 2023 Attendee

The speakers shared practical and actionable guidance on aspects of startups and even small businesses that are very rarely discussed publicly and never for such a low entrance fee! Startup Mountain Summit seemed like a great value for the cost of the ticket.

– Kiki Schirr

“After seeing what is happening here, my wife and I spent the morning looking at real estate. We’re moving here!”

“Great atmosphere, speakers gave talks with practical, useful information. I was able to take away actionable items from each presentation to my startup. It was easier to network than other events because of the size.”

– Kay Baker, Green Llama

“It was a fantastic event which exceeded my expectations. Beautiful venue and well organized. “

– Ron Taylor, Montage Garage

“Learned from outstanding presentations and the super engaged crowd. It was an energy boost to stay focused, apply some learnings, and keep going. The mix of local, regional and national speakers was valuable for lots of reasons.”

– Marie Wilson, MTW Consulting Group

“Amazing speakers, food, cool stickers, and everyone was so nice and constantly offering me their cookies.”

– Anonymous 2023 Attendee

“Love the small groups and great speakers. As an ETSU student I received free entrance. So id reccomend this to other students because it allows students, like me, access to great resources!”

– Anonymous 2023 Attendee

Startup Community Growth

Founder Demographics

  • Male Founders 74% 74%
  • Female Founders (High Growth) 26% 26%
  • Female Founders (Small Business) 56% 56%

Startup Status

  • Product / Service in Development 45% 45%
  • Product / Service Launched 21% 21%
  • Idea Stage 29% 29%
  • Growth Stage 5% 5%

Venture Capital Raised

Micro-SaaS Startup Exited

Startup Community Summary:

Our Startup community spans a diverse group of markets and services. This data does not include hyper-local small businesses or agencies, both of which have seen tremendous growth in our region. For simplicity, we grouped companies into Software as a Service (SaaS) unless they were in a specific category like Healthcare. The takeaway from this data is the incredible growth that we’ve seen in high-growth startups in the last few years. This includes woman-owned ventures in both the high-growth (20%) and small business (40%) sectors. Despite this growth, we still have more opportunities to expand our demographics across the board and we look forward to doing so in 2024. We also see substantial demand for helping Founders get their ideas off the ground and move into the growth stages of their business. Lastly, all entrepreneurship supporters and the community must strive to inspire more people to start their own businesses. 

FoundersForge Community Impact

We strive to make an impact in our local community through the support of other nonprofits and social impact organizations.

Supporting CO.STARTERS

Trained Pitchers and Provided Judges at ETSU iBucs Pitch Competition

FoundersForge Spoke at TEDxJC on History of Innovation in Our Region

Trained Pitchers at ETSU Elevates

Youth Leadership’s Entrepreneurship Day
(Play Video)

Entrepreneurship Day with the JC Chamber’s Leadership Class


It Is Time to Amplify Our Region. 

Our region was built on innovation. Johnson City’s skies once glowed orange because the forges burned so bright. The technology of smelting created a boom in our region and hard working Americans moved here to build a better future for us all.

It is happening again. This time, the incredible assets our region has and the quality of life it provides is attracting innovators and remote workers to the region. Artificial Intelligence is changing everything. While many will only see the challenges of growth and change, FoundersForge sees the opportunity in the future of our region.

By empowering our region’s innovators and inspiring the incredible talent we already have, we can propel our region to even greater success. We can establish it as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship that will make those around us ask, “How did they do it?

But first, we have to Amplify our region. It is our goal to Amplify423 through events, programming, and building an incredible network that helps anyone turn an idea into a business. We are also seeking to help Founders grow their existing Startups and small businesses. This is the year to reach the next level, climb your Startup Mountain, and build a better tomorrow for us all.

Here is how FoundersForge will help:

Introducing Two New Events

Amplify423 Workshop Series

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the startup/entrepreneurship scene grow tremendously. Startups in our region are not only solving problems in east Tennessee, but all over the U.S. In order to sustain this growth and “amplify” Tennessee startup voices, we are launching a new meetup called Amplify423. 

Our mission is to provide founders, startups, and entrepreneurs with the tools and connections they need to succeed. Hear from local startups, industry leaders, and others who have been through, or are currently going through, their startup journeys.

Most importantly, we hope to spotlight founders and industry leaders in our community and emphasize the innovation happening here in the mountains.

This event happens every other month, and potential workshops will happen throughout the year.

See the Full Schedule at myFoundersForge.com/events.

Startup Founders After 5

The main goal of Startup Founders After 5 is to bring the entrepreneurship community together. No agenda, No speakers, just CONNECTIONS. We want to hear about your journey—whether you are a startup founder, entrepreneur, or just looking to get involved, we’d love to meet you! This is the perfect opportunity for everyone to connect, share ideas, and form relationships in a laid-back environment.

This series of networking events will take place at businesses across the region, so we can all enjoy the local business scene while building valuable connections in the community.

See the Full Schedule at myFoundersForge.com/events.

The Pitch Returns in 2024

The region’s largest Startup pitch competition is back and better than ever. With over $10k in prize money, this competition can help you grow your business and get connected to the region’s community. Last year, we had over 250 in attendance, 6 pitchers, and incredible prizes. In 2024, we are improving the format, increasing audience participation, and adding a few surprises. This is going to be the biggest and best pitch event we’ve ever had!

Keep an eye on our newsletter and socials for pitch applications and tickets to the event.

Startup Mountain Summit 2024

The premiere conference for early-stage Startups in the Southeast returns this Fall. This year, we’re combining incredible speakers, workshops, and more intentional networking experiences to build on top of the success of last year’s event. Tickets are already on sale and people are already buying tickets!

Get your tickets today, and don’t miss out on the opportunity to reach the Summit of your own Startup Mountain. 

We Are Building A Substance Use-Recovery to Entrepreneurship (SURE) Ecosystem in Our Region

In late September of 2023, FoundersForge was awarded an ARC INSPIRE Grant to develop a plan that connects people from our region that are in recovery from substance use disorder to our amazing entrepreneurial resources. For many, creating their own job may be the best path forward to re-entering the workforce, and our region is equipped to make this an amazing transition.

We have received tremendous support from local, state, and federal representatives, recovery support professionals, and the entrepreneurial community.

In 2024, we plan to launch this initiative across 21 counties in TN and VA with many partners in the recovery and ESO spaces.


Appalachian Startup Alliance

In 2023, we recognized the substantial impact we’ve made in our region over the last few years. But outside our region, in more rural areas, we saw a gap in our ability to reach aspiring entrepreneurs. After more research, we realized that rural communities had limited access to successful entrepreneurship support programs across the region, including our own events. Therefore, we began building an ecosystem to connect these rural communities to our resources and others across Appalachia. 

We were awarded the SBA’s GAFC Grant to solve this through what we are calling the Appalachian Startup Alliance. The Alliance centralizes training, programs, online cohorts, a startup directory, and press contacts in order to provide underserved entrepreneurs–no matter where they are. This also expands the network to communities across multiple states, and organizations.

We launched our online portal during the Startup Mountain Summit, and we will be releasing a public version in the next few months.

This is just the beginning. 2024 is set to be one of the biggest years in our region’s entrepreneurial history. We look forward to seeing you at our events and helping you build, launch, and grow your Startups in 2024!

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