Even as the COVID-19 pandemic spiked job losses and vacations, she encouraged would-be entrepreneurs to turn their sideline into a money making business.
“As challenging as COVID has been, COVID has also created some incredible opportunities for people to easily start fantastic software-as-a-service businesses that address the little niche issues and needs that we have here,” said David Nelson, Director by FoundersForge.
Now city officials hope to continue helping local entrepreneurs through a new partnership between Johnson City and two local organizations: FoundersForge and Sync Space, Launch Tennessee’s network partner.
In December, the Johnson City Commission agreed to allocate $ 75,000 to Sync Space to help support startups and entrepreneurship in the city. Sync Space will match those funds with $ 75,000 from Launch Tennessee for a total of $ 150,000. The contract can be extended annually for up to three years.
The funding will help executives develop more resources for the Johnson City business community and support FoundersForge’s Startup Bootcamp, a nine-week program designed for people looking to start a business in technology or a highly scalable field.
“We want to focus on helping people take the first or next step on this business trip while encouraging them to stay in our area because we often lose people,” said Heath Guinn, President of Sync Space.
Bootcamp starts the week of March 15th, but FoundersForge is accepting applications until March 1st. You can submit an application for the Startup Bootcamp at myfoundersforge.com/bootcamp. The groups plan to hold the event again at the end of the year and host the boot camp every two years.
Guinn said Sync Space will also host the second year of its accelerator program in Johnson City, which will focus on rural health and will receive funding through the partnership.
Of the funds earmarked for this partnership, Nelson says $ 50,000 will go to FoundersForge. The extra money will allow the organization, which was previously Startup Tri-Cities before it was renamed 501 (c) 3 last year, to move from a volunteer organization to a dedicated team organizing its programming. The partnership will also enable FoundersForge to develop additional events.
“This allows us to work at a more effective level where we have more one-on-one conversations or in small groups with existing startups,” said Nelson.
According to Guinn, Johnson City and ETSU already have a strong entrepreneurial spirit.
“You can feel it in our region,” said Guinn. “It’s grown over the past few years, so it’s important to expand the programming around that spirit to keep companies and talent here. That’s a major focus.”
In addition, Guinn said East Tennessee has the opportunity to become the center for rural entrepreneurship in the United States
“You can’t play Kingsport against Johnson City,” he observed. “We have to compete with our region against the rest of the country.”
Johnson City Mayor Joe Wise said this partnership is an integral part of developing a strong startup community in the city.
When members of the Johnson City Commission visited Chattanooga a few years ago, Wise noted that several different partners had to come together to create a thriving business community in the city. Broadband access, funding, education and coaching are part of this effort.
“This seemed like a great opportunity to review those lessons in Johnson City,” he said.
According to Wise, the commissioners want this partnership to help develop a culture of collaboration that fosters the development of startups. When Wise started his company years ago, there were a lot he didn’t know.
“It was other little business people who … could teach me so much and encourage me so productively that I was successful,” he said.