Get to know David Nelson, avid outdoorsmen with a penchant for innovation, who heads up FoundersForge. David is a veritable think tank, as his ideas plume into the business atmosphere like billows from the smokestacks of a steel mill on a cold winter’s night.
Growing up, David was very lucky to have parents that encouraged him to explore, travel, and understand people from different backgrounds, social/economic situations, and beliefs. This mindset helped him continue to grow and thrive as an entrepreneur and as an individual. He also considers himself very lucky to have found a spouse that challenges him (and often wins!) in life. By surrounding himself with other driven individuals he has found life to be more fun and exciting. This constant drive on the inside has certainly created a more complicated life, but it’s been one of adventure and excitement. David thanks his family, friends, and coworkers for the inspiration they have instilled in him.
David comes to the Appalachian Highlands by way of Purdue University in Indiana, the Silicon Valley in California, Boulder, Colorado, and Raleigh, North Carolina. While in college at Purdue University, he joined a group called the Purdue Outing Club. It was there that he learned to whitewater kayak and fell in love with the Appalachian Mountains. After college he traveled, chasing his dreams of growing a tech Startup. Living in the big cities was always a challenge for him because he loved the outdoors and found he was happiest when he could work hard and chase adventure in the mountains. The Southeast called him back when his wife found her dream job in Johnson City and together, they found the dream location they never knew they were missing.
David’s family love that they have everything they need in our region to enjoy life and have immediate access to the outdoors. Other places they have lived and traveled advertise that they are an outdoor town but require an hour’s drive to experience any of it. Our region provides the small-town feel without sacrificing the quality of life that can be lived to its fullest without constant travel.
FoundersForge was built to help underdog entrepreneurs in our region succeed by building a vibrant startup community, providing high-impact events, and free 1-on-1 coaching. They believe that by supporting innovative entrepreneurs in our region, they are helping build the future of our region. Their modern approach to economic and workforce development will build resilience to help our region weather any future economic storm, while creating new opportunities for growth within our region.
FoundersForge is excited to help build a community where all players in the economic development and entrepreneurship-supporting organizations come together to build a vibrant startup ecosystem. Within the next five years we hope to see new jobs, companies, and economic opportunities grow from the incredible talent already living here. Within ten years, we intend to look back at how far we have come and, together as a community, reaffirm our commitment to cultivating another ten years of growth.
For too long our region has followed the standard economic development playbook. As this area comes together and starts working toward common goals we will learn that we have to write the new guide to success. When this happens, our community will be a model for others seeking similar success and FoundersForge exists to help make this happen.
When asked to recount a story of entrepreneurial success in this region, David offered this vignette.
“One of my favorite moments was 4 year ago when I got together with a few other entrepreneurs to launch an event, Pitches and Pints. This shark tank-like event asks aspiring startups to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges for the chance to win cash prizes. When we went around and told people we were doing a ‘Pitch Competition’, their response started with, “Great! What’s that?” We then said, “It’s kind of like Shark Tank.” Their response was, “What’s that?” We thought we were in trouble…how was this ever going to work?
“In just two months we planned our first large event and expected that twenty five to thirty people might show up if we were lucky. Instead we had one hundred and twenty five show up at the venue. We had to scramble to get more chairs and tables out for the people. As I walked up to the front stage to welcome everyone, I simply stated in an excited voice, ‘Entrepreneurship is Strong in Northeast Tennessee!’
“I’ll never forget the crowd cheering and the electric feeling of the excitement in the room. We’ve hosted four similar events since then, along with workshops and festivals. Though the same level of excitement isn’t quite the same, the momentum has continued. That jumpstart of electric energy in the room has led to multiple local startups getting funding, growing, and forging new connections. Supporting organizations have continued to step up their support and the city and economic development efforts around entrepreneurship have grown exponentially. While we certainly can’t take all of the credit, that moment in time felt like a jumpstart into our region’s future. Best of all, FoundersForge is just getting started!”