Regional entrepreneurs showcase startup growth at FoundersForge event


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Small local startups with big ambitions were showcased in a virtual event by nonprofit organization FoundersForge on Tuesday.

Leaders behind FoundersForge believe the region has the potential to become a hotbed for tech startups. The organization provides programming and support for ‘underdog entrepreneurs in the Appalachian Highlands.’

At Tuesday’s event, entrepreneurs behind a variety of startups shared their work in developing new online platforms, apps, services, and products.

Featured startups included Stone Mountain Technologies, Inc. (thermally-driven heat pump technology), ZenHammer (an app to allow subcontractors to manage business needs), ActionVFX (a visual effects stock footage company), JEB Foundation (personal care services and community engagement activities for the elderly), rpl. (an online platform to host 1-to-1 career coaching and mentoring sessions), and numerous others.

FoundersForge is working to grow these startups. The effort comes as regional leaders look to entrepreneurship as an avenue to creating successful new companies and major employers in the area.

Johnson City Mayor Joe Wise spoke of the economic development initiative at Tuesday’s event.

“Our region’s future, is one built on economic development, and entrepreneurial efforts are essential to that,” said Wise.

Other entrepreneurship ecosystems also play a part. This includes the ETSU Innovation Lab, ETSU’s student entrepreneurship program, and the Kingsport-based Sync Space.

Sync Space President Heath Guinn said they want to see the region become nationally-known as the ‘Epicenter for Rural Entrepreneurship.’

“Something special is happening in entrepreneurship, and it has been for the last three years or so, three or four years here in our region,” said Guinn.

FoundersForge officially launched in January 2020. Director David Nelson said the pandemic only accelerated the need for entrepreneurship activity in the region.

“I think in some ways, we were really uncertain,” said Nelson. “And then really it was like a torch was lit, a match was lit, and then we were off to the races to try to support and provide as much impact as we can.”

‘Pitchers & Pitches’ (Image: FoundersForge)

On Tuesday, FoundersForge also announced a new partnership between them and Appy League team the Johnson City Doughboys. A ‘Pitchers & Pitches’ event is scheduled for May 6 at Cardinal Park. Presenters will be able to pitch startup ideas, in five minutes or less, from the pitcher’s mound to a panel of judges at home plate to compete for cash prizes. Organizers said more details would be announced closer to the competition.

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