Startup hubs are a booming business across the Triangle, but one of the oldest is flourishing despite the competition. It’s the First Flight Venture Center. President Andy Schwab, who also is an active angel investor, explains why in an exclusive Q&A.

This is the second of a two-part interview.

As WRAL TechWire noted last week, FFVC companies produced $20,838,072 in funding (debt, equity, grants) in 2016 with 37 companies producing 162 full- and part-time jobs.

Part of FFVC’s appeal is special programs for its member firms. They include:

  • LiftOff

This program offers “North Carolina’s scientific entrepreneurs get early non dilutive funding for their technology start-ups. LiftOff provides expert assistance in grant proposal preparation to select rising NC scientific entrepreneurial companies who are developing technology that has the potential for high societal impact and present a strong value proposition likely to result in grant funding. This program has been funded through a combination of donations, in-kind gifts, and grants from FFVC, Wege Foundation, NC Biotech Center, NC Idea and the Small Business Association (SBA). Companies receive services at a significantly reduced cost. In return, companies are required to “give back” to the program through modest success fees that are intended to make the program self funding in the next five years. LiftOff is designed to be a financial force multiplier bringing in more money and increasing fundability when our companies later seek angel or traditional venture capital.”

  • WINGS, which targets STEM

WINGS stands for “Workplace Immersion for New Generation Scientists, a SBA Accelerator award funded program designed to provide first-hand work experience opportunities at high science startups at FFVC to STEM college students from disadvantaged backgrounds in cooperation with our partners NCCU and COIN.”

Our Q&A:

  • With so many startup hubs and shared office spaces now available in the Triangle, how does FF set itself apart?

First Flight is the only startup location focused on broad based science companies.

All of our programs, lunch and learns, partnerships, etc are focused on the unique needs of these types of companies.

  • At 37 companies, where does FF stand in terms of capacity? Is there a waiting list?

We can support 35-40 companies at any one time. We also have 10-15 virtual participants in our Friend of FFVC program.

While we are usually at near capacity always, we maintain a small waiting list and work diligently to help place everyone who applies that might be a fit for the center. Since all of our companies are at different stages of growth we have a continuous graduation rate and can usually accommodate companies that fit our high science, high impact model.

  • What are the primary prerequisites for a company to be accepted to FF?

We like to see that companies have a demonstrated proof of concept at the bench level and have a clear path to scaling their technology.

We also want to see if they understand or have thought about who their customer is and what it will take to reach these customers. They need to have dedicated full time staff or founders to move the company forward.

  • What do you require? Rent? Percentage of ownership?

We charge a program fee for our services. It usually includes space, but also includes a number of other critical services that we feel are important to move these companies forward such as mentoring services in our Navigator program, interns from our WINGS program and non diluting funding strategy through our LiftOff program.

  • The economy appears ready to take off. What keeps these startups coming?

We see a steady stream of startups coming from distinct areas.

One is the university ecosystem, the other is experts from larger companies creating their own ideas and the last is companies coming from outside the area that are attracted to RTP for the wealth of talent and quality of life that makes this area special and a good place to live.

  • The new programs you are offering such as that funded by NC IDEA – why are they so crucial to the FF mission?

We continue to ask our companies what resources they need and could best leverage to advance them to the next stage of commercialization. Each time we decide to move forward with a program, we weigh both its impact, cost and long term sustainability to determine if we want to move the program forward. This model creates great synergy with our companies and makes us uniquely positioned to accelerate their development.

Read part one of our interview at: