By RICK SMITH, Local Tech Wire editor

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – John Draper, one of the pillars of North Carolina’s high-tech entrepreneurial community and long-time director of the in RTP, has died.

“I ‘m very hurt by his passing,” said Joe Spratt, an independent financial advisor who worked with Draper at the First Flight center, told Local Tech Wire and

Funeral arrangements are pending.

“We are all shocked by the news,” said prominent Raleigh attorney Fred Hutchison, who is also the chair of the First Flight board and focuses on start-up ventures. The center’s motto: "Migrating Technology to the Marketplace."

“He made a mark in the Triangle and the entrepreneurial community,” Hutchison added. “We’ll all remember that.”

Draper also was chief executive officer of the North Carolina Technological Development Authority.

The First Flight Venture Center is a new business incubator located in the heart of RTP.

Under Draper’s direction, the Center received several awards.

In 2001, Draper took over operation of the NCTDA and First Flight Center after a state audit criticized operations there. Draper, who had served as chief financial officer, cut staff and expenses, and rebuilt the Center virtually from scratch.

"It’s a turn-key operation," Draper said of the Center’s offerings at the time. "Some companies come in here in the morning and they’re up and running by afternoon." (For a look back at Draper’s efforts, )

The Science Alliance named First Flight the “Best Science Based Incubator” in 2007. The conference centered on best practices in the incubator industry.

"It is an honor to receive this prestigious award and be recognized as the premier science incubator in the world,” Draper said at the time. “We owe our success to our tenants, who recognize and appreciate the value that we add in helping them start and grow their businesses."

The First Flight Center has been in operation since 1991 and has helped more than 170 companies.

Among companies that launched from First Flight were Ganymede Software, Mi-Co and Radar Find.

Draper received his law degree at the University of Cincinnati and a Bachelor of Arts degree at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Current tenants at First Flight include:

  • Accurate Electronics, Inc.
  • ElectroChemical Systems
  • Endacea, Inc.
  • Endls Optics
  • Envigen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • First Flight Venture Center
  • Fonebag/Groopd
  • Galaxy Diagnostics, Inc.
  • HomeHealthNetwork
  • Inanovate
  • Instrumentation Associates
  • Jenken Biosciences, Inc.
  • Learning Machines, Inc.
  • Network Development Group
  • OC3 Entertainment
  • Ribonomics, Inc.
  • Ridge Diagnostics
  • Sirga Advanced Biopharma
  • Spratt Financial
  • TechVerse
  • The Seven Soft Corp.
  • ViraSource
  • Visual Network Design/(Rackwise)
  • Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton LLP
  • Zoe Health Care System
  • Zumatek, Inc.

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