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'Shop Class' Goes High Tech At New RTP Prototyping Lab

Medical devices and many other science-based technologies start with a prototype. But somebody has to make the prototype. Somewhere. With the right tools and techniques.

First Flight Venture Center (FFVC), a Research Triangle Park-based science and technology incubator for North Carolina entrepreneurs, will soon have an option for inventors who need to turn their ideas into tangible reality.

FFVC has set a date of September 13, 2017 to roll back the doors of Hangar6, calling it “an advanced rapid prototyping facility.” Designed to be a shared prototyping lab open to all science-based companies in and around North Carolina, the two-building project is funded by a $450,000 challenge grant awarded to FFVC last November from the U.S. Department of Commerce under the Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program.

Because it will be an “advanced” prototyping facility, certification will likely be required for operating some of the equipment. Also, it will operate only on established business hours.

After the September open house, FFVC plans to hold subsequent events to showcase new equipment, capabilities, and services as the facility evolves to meet the needs of science and technology businesses.

The new “Hangar” gets its name from FFVC’s North Carolina aviation theme, and the number “6” comes from the facility’s address, 6 Davis Drive.

FFVC management is arranging for equipment, services, and sponsors, as well as hiring a full-time director to oversee the Hangar6 operations. They hope the facility will ultimately include such equipment as a lathe, milling machine, drill press, laser cutter, table-sized 3D printers and a welding shop.

Hangar6 is the first prototyping facility in North Carolina that will operate on a membership basis. The membership model and pricing are still in development. Membership in Hangar6 will be open to any U.S. company, and will not be restricted to FFVC members. However, it’s expected that most companies will come from the Triangle region.

Hangar6 spans two buildings. Alexandria is providing the buildings behind the main FFVC building.

The larger will be an open space with dividers instead of walls that will house the equipment, and a smaller building for storage that will also include an open welding shop.

“It’s exciting to see the progress as the Hangar6 facility comes together,” said Andrew Schwab, FFVC president. “We’re looking forward to providing a comprehensive range of advanced equipment and expert professional services that will serve as a resource for the rapidly growing number of science- and technology-based entrepreneurial companies that are springing up in the RTP and the greater Triangle region. We believe that the Hangar6 facility will be a catalyst for the growth of new companies and new employment opportunities for North Carolina.”

According to Schwab, the Hangar6 prototyping facility is to have an ongoing, self-sustaining source of funding through subscription fees for use of the equipment, as well as sponsorship opportunities for companies that offer resources and services needed by companies engaged in the prototyping process. FFVC is actively seeking equipment suppliers and other vendors to participate in the Hangar6 program.

Three companies have already provided some of the necessary challenge grant support:

  • Alexandria Real Estate Equities, the RTP office of a national real estate investment trust focused on life sciences;
  • the North Carolina Center Of Innovation Network (NC COIN), a Greensboro-based member network of companies dedicated to fostering a growth environment in North Carolina for technology companies;
  • and Eva Garland Consulting, a Raleigh firm that assists innovative technology companies obtain non-dilutive funding through government and private sources to accelerate their growth.

Other companies or individuals interested in participating in the Hangar6 project as subscribers or sponsors can contact Schwab or visit the FFVC website.

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