RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Emil Runge, program manager at First Flight Venture Center, talks with WRAL TechWire via a Q&A about what’s happening at one of the region’s most established co-working and startup hub centers:

  • How many startups do you currently have in residence at First Flight?

We average 30-35 companies but the actual number can vary in any one month as companies cycle through.  At present we have 34 companies that participate with our facility.

  • How does that compare to last year’s numbers? Has there been a jump or decline?

Our numbers vary based on a number of factors.  First, as the average age of the companies at the center increase, they typically require additional space which reduces the total number of companies at the center at that time. Once companies graduate, it opens new space that usually takes us a few months to fill.

For example, there were two larger companies that graduated in the last few months and we have been filling that space.  Just in the last month, we have signed up six new companies to fill some of that space from the two that graduated. Another factor is the availability of laboratory space.

In the past year, we typically did not have open labs with chemical hoods and turned away at least a dozen or more potential candidates that required that capability. We are now fortunate to have several labs available for new companies in 2020 due to the graduations.

  • In terms of fundraising, how is First Flight’s LiftOff program going? How much did it raise in 2019? How does that compare to other years?

LiftOff has been a tremendously successful program. In 4 years First Flight has raised approximately $400,000 for the LiftOff program, subsidizing grant writing for approximately 30 companies which has resulted in grant awards totaling $15.5 million. Over time these awards will generate money back to LiftOff.

LiftOff is designed to be evergreen so at a certain point our efforts to fundraise for the program itself will decline.  We are not at that point yet and are still seeking to raise money for this outstanding program.  In 2019 we received funding from the Small Business Administration to expand the reach to disadvantaged science focused companies, specifically those in rural areas, or led by women or minorities. In 2019, we also received a President’s award from NCBiotech to expand this important program.

  • There have been a lot of co-working spaces popping up in the Triangle. How has that impacted First Flight?

First Flight supports High Science High Impact companies which do not typically utilize co-working spaces.  These companies need laboratories. Their intellectual property requires privacy and security. They need mentors. They need to be in a community of like-minded people.  The typical co-working space is not designed for science focused companies that have these requirements.

First Flight recently started a co-working program for science focused companies that are most often in transition and not quite ready for lab space but want to begin to have access to the resources that are part of First Flight.

First Flight has a depth of understanding of the unique needs of engineers, biostatisticians, microbiologists, chemists and the technologies they are creating. From this understanding, we are able to make our facility more functional for the entrepreneurs that are changing the world and beyond.