Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of in-depth reports about startup-focused hubs across the Triangle region. The Startup Guide is an exclusive feature from WRAL TechWire designed to help entrepreneurs launch and grow entrepreneurial companies. These reports are being written by WRAL TechWire contributor Sarah Glova. Watch for more reports in coming weeks as part of our Startup Monday packages.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – In an exclusive interview with WRAL Techwire, First Flight Venture Center’s President, Krista Covey, and Digital Marketing and Events Coordinator, Caroline Brinkley, share what’s unique about FFVC.
“As NC’s original science-focused technology incubator, we have spent over 30 years supporting the development and growth of over 400 high science, high impact entrepreneurial companies by providing the tailored resources, guidance, connections, and support required for sustained commercial success,” said Covey and Brinkley in a joint interview.
A lightly edited transcript of the interview appears below.
- WRAL TechWire (TW): What sets First Flight Venture Center apart from other hubs?
Krista Covey and Caroline Brinkley (Covey and Brinkley): First Flight supports the development of innovative technologies and economic growth by providing early-stage businesses with affordable and flexible laboratory and office space, management guidance and counseling, as well as shared business and technology support services.
Just the facts:
Name: First Flight Venture Center
Address: 2 Davis Dr., Durham, NC 27709
Contact Information: Twitter: @ffvcnc
Facebook: First Flight Venture Center
Leadership: Krista Covey, President
Mission statement: To propel early-stage science companies through the delivery of comprehensive resources, and
to empower innovators to transform good ideas into great successes.
Space Availability: Currently 100% occupied for lab/office space. As companies graduate, there is room for new
startups. (First Flight has graduated over 400 companies over the past three decades.)
Best way to learn more: Check out the FFVC website at https://www.ffvcnc.org or sign up for the FFVC newsletter.
Besides our affordable physical space and amenities, what truly sets First Flight apart are our programs and services for entrepreneurs. Our priority is meeting the entrepreneur/innovator wherever they may be in their business lifecycle, from concept to commercial success.
- TW: NC is reporting a continuing surge in new businesses—what are you seeing in terms of demand?
Covey and Brinkley: I think there has been a surge in new businesses especially as folks have had to manage through the pandemic and have had time to think about their personal career plans.
We serve innovators and entrepreneurs who are focused on “changing the world for good” and there have been a record number of people who have had good ideas on the back burners for a while. They seem to be, not only in a good place, but compelled to move forward and turn these good ideas into commercial successes, and First Flight is here to help them do just that.
- TW: How much space does your facility have? Are there any plans for expansion?
Covey and Brinkley: First Flight currently occupies 25K square feet at our Davis Dr. building. This includes 32 offices and 32 labs. First Flight announced its plan to expand into a new building, and double our square footage, at a reception at the NC Executive Mansion on December 7, 2021.
- TW: What services are in demand?
Covey and Brinkley: First Flight’s lab space is most in-demand right now, and is the catalyst for the new building that will be constructed on the First Flight property over the next few years.
We are seeing an uptick in coworking as people are definitely tired of working out of their homes and are looking for a supporting community.
We have absolutely seen an increase in all the virtual business education programming that we offer across North Carolina as well.
- TW: What educational programs do you offer?
Covey and Brinkley: Some key programs include:
- BARDA (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) DRIVe (Division of Research, Innovation, and Ventures): As one of 13 accelerators nationwide, we provide access to grants that focus on transforming health security by accelerating the research, development, and availability of transformative countermeasures to protect Americans from natural and intentional health security threats.
- Federal and State Technology (FAST) Program: A grant by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and State Technology Partnership Program that is designed to stimulate economic development by providing training, financial support, and business expertise to science and technology-focused, women-owned, rural-based, or socially/economically disadvantaged firms.
- LiftOff: Helps early-stage companies obtain grant funding by providing them with expert assistance in developing non-dilutive funding strategies and grant proposal preparation.
- Hangar6™: Our rapid prototyping facility is equipped with the tools and training to help innovators and entrepreneurs develop working models faster and less expensively. We have sophisticated equipment and the bench depth knowledge to support early-stage companies that are applying for federal funding opportunities like SBIRs/STTRs.
- TW: What other entrepreneurship programs are available?
Covey and Brinkley: Along with our other educational programs, First Flight is pleased to offer the following entrepreneurial support programs:
- WheelsUP Accelerator: A comprehensive 12-week, cohort-based, sector-focused accelerator for science startups launching in 2022.
- Navigators: First Flight Navigators are seasoned executives, entrepreneurs, and scientists with rich business experience. We pair one of our experienced Navigators with a senior executive in a startup to serve as a trusted advisor.
- Test Flight: Test Flight acts as pitch practice for companies in the First Flight Venture Center ecosystem. On the first Tuesday of each month, we invite an audience to observe pitches from up to two companies.
- TW: Do you have any programs that focus on women entrepreneurs, minority-owned businesses, or veteran-owned businesses?
Covey and Brinkley: First Flight has several programs and events that are focused on providing resources and assistance to women entrepreneurs and minority-owned businesses.
The Propeller Program is a 6-week entrepreneurial design thinking program which helps founders and entrepreneurs determine whether there is sufficient value to pursue a product or service idea. The program helps entrepreneurs identify potential markets, develop a path to market strategy, and learn how to communicate the value of the idea to early stakeholders and adopters.
In 2021 First Flight received 28 scholarships for our Propeller Program from NC IDEA. These scholarships are meant to help women entrepreneurs and those in product manufacturing.
First Flight was awarded its first Federal and State Technology (FAST) Program grant in 2018 from the US Small Business Administration. FAST seeks to improve outcomes in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs for underserved communities by increasing participation from women-owned, rural-based, and socially economically disadvantaged small businesses.
As part of the 2021-22 FAST Program, First Flight is hosting or has hosted an all-women Propeller cohort, multiple seminars, and a FAST SBIR Grant Readiness Bootcamp that, out of a cohort of 35 companies, included 11 women-owned, four minority-owned, and three veteran-owned companies.
First Flight is one of 84 recipients of the Growth Accelerator Fund Award (GAFC) across the country. The GAFC Award is designated for accelerating the innovation economy in rural areas, especially among underserved and underrepresented populations, such as women and people of color. As part of the GAFC Award, First Flight sponsors two all-women Propeller cohorts, educational panels and workshops (including a Women Investors and a Women Leaders in Biotech panel), and advice and pitch practice through the Navigators and Test Flight programs.
Covey and Brinkley: In addition to the FAST Award, GAFC Award, and BARDA DRIVe Grant, we have received support from NC IDEA, The NC Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), the NC Biotechnology Center, the NC Defense Industry Diversification Initiative (DIDI), and the US Economic Development Administration (EDA) through the Build to Scale Grant.
As a non-profit incubator, First Flight thrives and will continue to serve our community due to the donors and partners who invest in our mission to ensure that science and technology-focused startups have every chance for commercial success. We are so grateful for the support we receive from the innovation ecosystem.
- TW: What is the organization’s philosophy about helping startups and small/emerging companies to grow?
Covey and Brinkley: We are a non-profit 501(c)3 organization and our mission is to, “Propel early-stage science and technology-focused companies through the delivery of comprehensive resources and to empower innovators to transform good ideas into commercial successes.”
We are focused on helping innovators and entrepreneurs from “concept to commercial success” and meeting them where they are at in their company’s life cycle, ultimately helping them to achieve their version of success. We are constantly accessing what resources are needed for them to be successful and trying to fill in the gaps that may exist.