Nonprofit supporting local startups seeks funding from Johnson City

Jun 14, 2020 | News

With entrepreneurs seeking a helping hand as novel coronavirus (COVID-19) decimates small businesses, a local nonprofit established to assist regional startups is raising funds from private and public sources, including the city of Johnson City.

FoundersForge, which launched under a 501(c)3 designation in late January as a rebranding of Startup Tri-Cities, is seeking $100,000 per year for two years to get its operations going. Although the organization is also looking for money from private companies, leaders are hoping a portion of that initial funding will come from Johnson City and delivered a pitch to city commissioners during their agenda review meeting on Monday.

David Nelson, director of FoundersForge, said city dollars and public grants are a great way to get started. But, he added that the only way the organization can succeed is if entrepreneurs are collectively excited about their startup ecosystem and if public and private money together invests in that ecosystem.

“The goal is within two to three years having the majority of that coming from private companies buying into the ecosystem,” Nelson said. “We hope some of those will be the successful startups that are here. We’ve actually gotten some of the smaller companies saying, ‘I’d love to sponsor and support events,’ but really we need that jumpstart, we need community support of that.”

The money would help the organization pay for staffing, operating costs and free office space for entrepreneurs in Johnson City called “the Forge.”

Nelson said it’s really important that private entities join the venture, which is what he said will make it successful in the long run.

The organization is currently serving 38 startups, but Nelson said many local small businesses are struggling because of the economic blow of COVID-19.

“We’ve gotten to a point where all these businesses … they’ve all just plateaued for all these different reasons,” Nelson said. “They get all this momentum for all these different reasons. They get all this excitement and customers and they hit this level, and they just exist at that level when we really need them to grow.”

Karlee Goodwin, chief operating officer for FoundersForge, told commissioners the organization has the resources to put those businesses on a path toward growth.

“The FoundersForge team has what it takes, the tools and equipment and resources, to get these startups and small businesses from the plateau up to their peak,” Goodwin said.

Leaders are hoping to see 100 startups formed in 10 years and create a total of 1,000 jobs in the region. They’re also planning to launch a nine-week bootcamp that would serve as a “deep dive” into entrepreneurship.