First Flight Venture Center has big plans for its next 30 years. Flight Venture Center has big plans for its next 30 years.

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK First Flight Venture Center (First Flight), the Research Triangle Park-based science and technology business incubator for North Carolina entrepreneurs, recently held a celebration reception in the holiday setting of NC Executive Mansion. First Flight President Krista Covey shared the news of First Flight’s bold vision for the next 30 years to an audience of innovation stakeholders, First Flight donors, investors/venture capitalists, elected officials and Triangle leaders.

First Flight turns 30

Covey announced the three pillars of First Flight’s new strategic plan to mitigate gaps that impede the growth and sustainability of early-stage science-focused companies, stating:

“First Flight’s mission is to propel early-stage science focused companies through the delivery of comprehensive resources and to empower the innovator to transform good ideas into great success. Tonight, I’m announcing our plans to follow that North Star to take these actions to plan and launch a:

  • New building on existing First Flight land to expand lab space, consolidate prototyping assets and centralize programming resources
  • New Accelerator, Wheels Up, a comprehensive 12-week cohort-based, sector-focused accelerator for science startups. In collaboration with the Biomedical Research and Development Authority (BARDA), Wheels up will provide funds for participating companies and has secured $100,000 in prize money
  • New capital fund to provide critical financial support for the long runway science-focused companies face”

Covey explained “ Our 25,000 sq.ft. science/technology incubator is bursting at the seams and at capacity to serve science-focused startups with the lab space they need in the early stages of their development. We intend to maximize our prime RTP location to develop our land and establish First Flight as an international center of innovation excellence.”

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The First Flight President also outlined the impressive new partnership forged with BARDA, and how the virtual Wheels UP accelerator will provide a new approach to intensive business and technical education to companies across the globe.

In addition, First Flight will reinvent its role from its earliest days in raising and providing loans/venture capital to entrepreneurs and will be working with key stakeholders in this regard.

John Hardin, Executive Director, Office of Science, Technology & Innovation, NC Department of Science, Department of Commerce described his long standing relationship with First Flight. “Thinking back, I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve interacted with various members of the First Flight team, the hundreds of entrepreneurs that have started and grown their businesses at First Flight, the dozens of educational programs and networking events I’ve attended at First Flight. Few organizations in the state can say they’ve played such a pivotal role in incubating the next generation of North Carolina’s economy. First Flight has had a great first 30 years, and it is well positioned to soar even higher in its next 30 years and beyond.”

Representatives from two First Flight resident companies, Dr. Sue Mecham, CEO, NALA Systems (a cleantech company working to reduce the cost and complexity of desalination and water purification) and Ryan Quick, Founder/COO of Drive Therapeutics (a biotechnology company striving to improve treatment for retinal disease) shared their sentiments about the benefits of being part of the First Flight community from investor introductions, education programs and informal collaboration with fellow entrepreneurs.

The Dec.7 event was the second in a series to commemorate First Flight’s 30th Anniversary. In front of a sold-out audience at Prestonwood Country Club on November 19, First Flight honored past president, Andrew Schwab (2011-2019) for accomplishments during his tenure.

Also at the Nov. 19th event, First Flight initiated a “High Flyer” award that will recognize outstanding contributions to innovation and those that propel the success of entrepreneurs to make a significant impact and change the world for good.  United Therapeutics was announced as the first ever“High Flyer Award” winner – particularly meaningful given that United Therapeutics’ started its journey to commercialization success as a First Flight resident company in 1996.

Dewey Steadman, Head of Investor Relations, United Therapeutics Corporation stated “United Therapeutics is honored to receive the inaugural High Flyer Award from the First Flight Venture Center.  Our relationship with First Flight dates back to our beginnings as a company in 1996, enabling us from the very start to hit the ground running and keep our primary focus on drug development for patients suffering with pulmonary arterial hypertension.  As one of the oldest technology incubators in the country, First Flight is ground zero for entrepreneurship and a recognized economic engine for the Research Triangle region, helping dozens of companies grow and prosper over the years.  We look forward to our continued involvement and support of this important organization.”

Key leaders in the innovation community supported the November 19th event including:

– Marquis Sponsor: United Therapeutics
– Inventor Advocate: Alexandria Real Estate
– Scientist Supporter: NC Biotechnology Center, NC IDEA
– Cheers to Andrew Schwab Champagne Toast: Financial Directions, First Flight Board of Directors, NK Patent Law, Snthesis, Powered Research, Research Triangle Park Foundation, RTP Capital
– Table sponsors: East Carolina University, Ecliptic, Morningstar Law Group, O’Brien Atkins, StoredTech,

First Flight will announce further updates on the implementation of the new strategic plan in 2022.

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Kassie Hoffman
Kassie pens down all the news from the world of politics on ANH.