Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Tri-Cities, TN/VA

Tri-Cities Ecosystem

One of the best kept secrets of the southeast United States is a region made up of Bristol, TN / Bristol, VA, Johnson City, TN, and Kingsport, TN. Known as the Tri-Cities, this unique area possesses some of the best resources of a major city, without the problems and hassles of a major metropolitan area.

Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of Upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, the Tri-Cities is a Combined Statistical Area of more than 500,000 residents. Johnson City placed as #14 on Forbes’ Best Small Places for Business and Careers List recently, and as one of The 10 least Expensive Places for Living in the US by Kiplinger. The attributes of affordable housing and below average utility, transportation and healthcare costs are shared by each of the communities across the Tri-Cities.

Rich in history, Jonesborough, a bedroom community of the region is Tennessee’s oldest town. Bristol has been recognized by congress as “The Birthplace of Country Music”. The area is also the home of Davy Crockett, the “Lost State of Franklin” and the Bristol Motor Speedway. An area which continues its tradition of manufacturing with its solid base, is now in the process of developing a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. Based on this activity, FundingSage has reviewed the resources that make up the Tri-Cities ecosystem.

 Entrepreneurial Meetups:

Regular Entrepreneurial Events:

    Touts themselves as the “go-to” organization in the Tri-Cities for small business owners and entrepreneurs endeavoring to start or grow a business through the provision of consulting and technical assistance.
  • Startup Tri-Cities
    Describes themselves as “a network of entrepreneurs and supporting organizations that spans across Johnson City, Kingsport, Bristol and the surrounding region”.

Startup Competitions:

  • Pitches & Pints
    An entrepreneur sponsored pitch event for the entrepreneurs of the region.
  • Wisehacks
    An annual 24 hour hackathon organized by UVa-Wise Abingdon and sanctioned by Major League Hacking, (MLH).

Co-working Space:

  • Spark Plaza
    Tri-Cities’ first co-working community. Located in downtown Johnson City, Spark Plaza’s desire is to provide freelancers and entrepreneurs an alternative place to work.
  • SyncSpace
    Kingsport’s first and the region’s newest co-working space.

Maker Space

  • Innovation Forge
    Provides a training consultancy for design software, design methodologies and innovation management.


  • ETSU Innovation Lab
    A university based high-tech business incubator which has as an objective “to assist and support members in growing their business endeavors from concept to commercialization”.
  • Holston Business Development Center
    Strives to support business startups become a reality through small business counseling, business oriented classes and business workspace.
  • Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator
    Helps startups and existing businesses in southwest Virginia expand and grow through the provision of guidance, reasonable rent and related services.

Incubators vs. Accelerators: Which Best Fits Your Needs?


  • AccelNow
    Provides resources to entrepreneurs to help them start up successful businesses and create jobs and wealth in the Northeast Tennessee region.

Seeking an accelerator which matches your needs? Check out our Global Accelerator Register.

Colleges / Universities:

Angel Groups / VCs:Tri-Cities

Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

    A web based news service with a focus on spotlighting and celebrating all things related to technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship in East Tennessee.
  • Startup Southerner
    “is an inclusive media platform that explores the dynamics of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the south”.
  • Venture Tennessee Connections
    An online entrepreneurial and business news service with a focus on related activities in the state of Tennessee and surrounding areas.


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  • Clark R

    Yeah, my area is very anti-start-up. There was another outfit here called KOSBE. I had an idea for a night club, I went to them they were like it’s the best idea since sliced bread. they put me in touch with guy I used to work with. He was supposed to help me with the business plan and seek funding. He never finished helping me and KOSBE sent me to micro leading place. No one went with me. So I don’t know this side of it so I look foolish. I finally go back to the woman over KOSBE and I tell her the guy isn’t working out, can she find me anyone else? She then gets an attitude saying and I qoute “I can find you someone else, but I can’t make them play nice” Then she goes into maybe he has something simular going on etc etc. I believe it was because she had the hots for him. When we all first meet, right before he showed up she was going on about how hot he was practically telling me she would have his baby. i found this a little inapropriate, but i needed the help. Which I did not get.

    So now later, I have this idea. I didn’t try KOSBE again. I tried chambers of commerce. In Bristol, they put me in touch with a guy who sold mattresses, never worked in food. Didn’t have a clue. Kingsport no help. Johnson city, they put me in touch with the SBA. I talk to a guy there, again, did not work in restaurants. He looked at what I had and made notes, said when correct it let him know. So I did. He said give him time to look over it. I give him like a month. I try to reach him can’t get a hold of him. I contact the main SBA. I’m willing to go to Knoxville or Asheville for help. i would go to them. The guy tells me since I’m registered in Johnson city I can’t get help anywhere else. He contacts the guy and he’s like oh, his stuff went to my spam folder etc. I can’t waste time on that.

    Then I try Accellnow. I tell them same thing need help with plan need a restaurnt manager. One guy says he would bring in guy over Acell he would know more. I ask them and tell them, before we meet do they have any questions? I could send them the plan etc. i didn’t want to waste their time, or mine. They say come on down. I meet with them. a few minutes in one guy gets up just leaves. The other guy suggests a food truck. Said doesn’t know anyone in restaurants. Why bring me in if don’t know? Am I a joke to these people?

    There may be others can’t remember. All I can figure, maybe they are connected to the ones own several restaurants and it would be competion. Of all the chamber members in three cities, not one is connected to a restaurant?

    Also, SCORE, has been a nightmare. I tried three times. They didn’t know anyone in restaurant business. I did meet with one guy in Bristol. He told me the Bristol chamber forced them out of helping people, so didn’t have an office. We had to keep meeting at places. I did all he ask that I could. He said he knew a restaurant manager, but never would introduce me. He may have been off his rocker too. he wanted me to go to my bank ask for the loan person. Not tell them anything, ask for a business card to bring back to him, but just to say high to the person. ??????? If I work in a bank someone does that I’m gonna think they’re insane.

    I hate to think like this, but that’s all I can figure, they “have help” around here. No one said it would work out, but there is help. Of all these organizations, you’d think, opening a restaurant would be more than not what people would want to do.

    I had a woman from from the TSBDC contact me and never returned any more messages. A miss Aditi Bhave.I find it at the very least rude that they would not respond. I even contacted the main office over no contact and guess what? They never responded either. As mentioned above I don’t want to waste anyone’s time and I don’t like mine wasted either, but if they can’t or won’t help a response would do

Tony Lettich

Tony Lettich has previous corporate venture capital experience and currently serves as Managing Director of The Angel Roundtable. He is a co-founder of FundingSage, which provides valuable information, tools and resources to entrepreneurs seeking to start, grow and fund a business.