This Thursday, aspiring entrepreneurs will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges for the chance to win thousands in prize money.

But, unlike past years, they’ll be standing at a pitcher’s mound under the glare of stadium lights.

FoundersForge is partnering this week with the Johnson City Doughboys on Pitchers and Pitches, which will occur 6 p.m. Thursday at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. Gates will open at 5 p.m.

The event is a revamped version of the organization’s prior startup competition, Pitches and Pints, and is the largest event of its kind in the region. The organization opted not to hold the competition in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Nine competitors will each have five minutes to present their ideas to a panel of judges. Depending on time, there will also be two to three minutes for questions. The panel will consist of a variety of investors, sponsors and community members.

Organizers will be handing out $10,000 in prize money. First place will receive $7,000, second place will receive $3,000 and third place will receive a six-month co-working membership at Spark Plaza valued at $1,800. The crowd will also be able to vote for their favorite pitch, which will come with a special prize for the winner.

Crown Laboratories President and CEO Jeff Bedard will deliver a keynote speech.

Because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, FoundersForge Director David Nelson said, there was a huge increase in the number of people starting their own businesses. It also gave entrepreneurs more time to work on their ideas.

Nelson said the FoundersForge board and sponsors wanted to come up with a way to celebrate and showcase regional entrepreneurs.

“What we’ve seen over the last five years is a complete paradigm shift where entrepreneurship is becoming more and more of a focal point,” he said.

Five years ago, there were seven or eight known local startups, Nelson said. That number has since grown to more than 66.

There was also record number of people who applied to pitch at the event this Thursday, and Nelson said there are already plans to hold another startup competition near the end of the year.

A total of 22 people applied to participate in the startup competition, which was pared down to nine competitors who will pitch across nine “innings” this Thursday.

The event will be free. Free ballpark food and drinks will also be available.

In January 2020, Startup Tri-Cities announced it would be rebranding under a 501©3 organization as FoundersForge. With the change, Nelson said the organization wanted to evolve its pitch event to keep up with startup growth in the region.

Nelson added that FoundersForge’s sponsorships with Sync Space, and Johnson City has enabled it to dedicate more resources and put on an even greater event.

“It’s really amazing that as the community comes together bigger and better things keep happening,” he said.