Data for 2016 show just how big the impact First Flight Venture Center is having on the Triangle’s entrepreneurial community:

  • More than $20 million in funding (debt, equity, grants) generated
  • 37 companies
  • More than 160 employees

And Andy Schwab, the Center’s president, is quite proud, as he makes clear in our two-part interview. An active angel investor and a serial entrepreneur, Schwab speaks from two decades of experience in the Triangle tech community as he shares his thoughts about First Flight, its mission, and its uniqueness as a startup hub after FFVC published its first annual report about what all’s happening.

Much of the hype about startup hubs in the Triangle focuses on American Underground and HQ Raleigh (both continue to grow) while new players are emerging. But FFVC should not be overlooked.

In the last two years alone, FFVC has landed grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration and NC IDEA Foundation, funding used to expand its range of offerings and support.

Here’s the first part of our Q&A:

  • How does 2016 compare to other years for funding, grants, and jobs.

We haven’t been tracking this performance measure until the last 18 months. We have won several SBA accelerator grants at FFVC over the last two years that request quarterly update performance data that we are now collecting.

The partial information for 2015 was over $12M raised, but I don’t know how to compare this year’s figure with past performance.

I was extremely pleased that our companies have been making significant progress on fund raising as this is critical to moving them through key milestones in their Commercialization process.

  • How does 2016 compare to others based on your experiences at FFVC?

Same issues here as well. Just started tracking, but parking lot is extremely full most weeks so numbers seem to be up. We will also be tracking numbers of people from disadvantaged groups as defined by the SBA moving forward.

We stay fairly constant on the number of companies we support – usually between 35-40. Our total space limits our ability to handle many more companies than this.

  • Why do you continue to stay involved as the Center’s president?

I have been at FFVC for over six years now. I believe First Flight is an extremely important resource in the Triangle entrepreneurial community because of its focus on High Science based companies.

I believe my technology education (PhD Electrical Engineering) and past startup experience in over six companies over the last 20 years makes me uniquely qualified to assist these types of companies. I enjoy the breath and high impact potential of these companies and feel honored to have the opportunity to help them realize their growth.

It is extremely rewarding to be surrounded by incredibly bright, talented individuals that are tackling critical problems that have high societal impact.

  • What are the major changes have you have seen during your tenure?

Since most of our companies have subject matter experts as founders, our age group tends to lean older than other centers in the Triangle.

  • How do trends in changes at FF compare to changes you have seen as an active investor in other Triangle companies?

A unique challenge for FFVC companies with regard to the angel/VC local landscape is that most of the companies will require more capital and longer commercialization timelines than software/tech investments.

We have moved aggressively to find additional support mechanisms such as SBIR/STTR programs and other non traditional funding sources to assist our companies to complete sufficient milestones that can make them better candidates for angel/VC capital.

Coming in part two: Inside FFVC’s mission