First Flight Venture Center Offers Space, Community Building Blocks

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As states and companies across the country wade through reopening from COVID-19 shutdowns, First Flight Venture Center encourages young, science-based companies to take a leap from their stay-at-home, makeshift setups to their own office and lab space.

“Now is a great time for entrepreneurs to learn about the offices and labs that we lease, which are specifically designed for the needs of science and technology innovators,” said Krista Covey, the newly hired president of First Flight.

The Research Triangle Park incubator facility houses 30 to 40 early-stage companies at any one time. Many of them graduate from First Flight within three to five years as they move closer to commercialization. Since its inception in 1991, First Flight has helped launch 400 companies with a combined market value in excess of $8 billion.

First Flight companies focus on solutions to real-world problems such as treatments for glaucoma and HIV, novel drug delivery systems and filtration materials for water treatment. Two recent graduates are Cell Microsystems, which makes cell separation technology, and SonoVol, which develops 3D imaging products for preclinical oncology, cardiology and tissue engineering fields.

Specialized start-up services beyond office and lab space

“To build a successful company, you need a supportive community,” said Covey. “And that is very much a part of how we help our members build through the programs and services we offer.”

Resident companies and co-working members of First Flight are able to attend its educational and social programs. They also gain opportunities to meet business advisors, network with like-minded innovators and connect with possible funding partners. Through the competitive LiftOff program, selected companies can benefit from First Flight’s subsidized grant-writing services.

“First Flight is integral to the startup and development of life sciences companies in North Carolina,” says Vivian Doelling, Ph.D., vice president of emerging company development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. “Over the course of the last 10 years, the Biotech Center has funded many of these startups, leading to both job creation and technology innovation.”

DIY prototype route saves time and money

Krista Covey
Krista Covey

Companies with a design concept need a prototype – or in some cases, several prototypes. Equipment to build early-stage prototypes can be prohibitively expensive for young companies balancing countless other startup costs.

Hangar6 is First Flight’s solution for companies at the prototype crossroad. Located next door to First Flight, Hangar6 is an advanced prototyping facility that is open, on a subscription basis, to science-based entrepreneurs, startups and corporations in and around North Carolina.

Companies that join Hangar6 gain access to advanced tools such as laser metal cutters, large 3D printers and CNC milling machines. Hangar6 offers design assistance and training on all of the equipment. Through this do-it-yourself option, startups are able to build and test their designs themselves instead of spending weeks and thousands of dollars on outsourced prototypes.

“We firmly believe our services and the flexibility of our operation for early-stage science-focused companies is needed now more than ever as our economy reopens and rebuilds,” said Mary Musacchia, chair of First Flight’s board of directors. “Founders of young companies have so much to gain from immersing themselves in First Flight’s entrepreneurial community.”

Kelly Duffort, NCBiotech Writer
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