RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Krista Covey, president of the First Flight Venture Center, says things are humming there. It  is in the middle of a move next door to the Alexandria property at Six Davis Drive, and they plan a celebration when the move is complete.

First Flight Venture Center is a science and technology incubator located in Research Triangle Park.  Established in 1991, First Flight has hosted more than 400 science-focused companies. It has 40 offices with space currently available due to two recent graduates.

It also has scientists working in some of its 21 labs, despite the  COVID pandemic. “You can’t stop science,” Covey said in an interview with WRAL TechWire.

First Flight Venture Center

Covey has been supporting the development and growth of early-stage companies through her work building and leading award-winning innovation hubs in Florida and Texas. She has an extensive background in banking and finance, experience in business incubation and acceleration, economic gardening for high-growth science and tech companies, and public relations.

As an entrepreneur,  she grew her own successful finance business with a profitable exit and she has served on several start-up boards.

A contact at the International Business Innovation Association, where she is a board member, suggested she check out the opportunity at First Flight, which has an excellent reputation. She said she used to spend summers in NC camping, has family in the area, and always thought she might end up here. It was fortuitous.”

Covey clearly loves the job. “A college professor told me to find out what you love to do and do it so well you get paid for it. I get my warm and fuzzies working with entrepreneurs. I’m excited to get up in the morning.”

She joined First Flight as president in May, replacing Andy Schawab.”He’s still a friend of First Flight and made the transition very easy,” Covey said.

New programs, expanding programs

First Flight is expanding its LiftOff program, which helps companies pursuing non-dilutive funding, by hiring a grant writer to walk applicants through the grant process.

It recently began a series of virtual roundtables, an idea Covey brought with her from her previous incubator experiences. The Center held the first one recently. “It’s a way for founders to get together and discuss challenges and opportunities and use each other as advisory boards.”

Although it can’t help its members with in-person advanced prototyping services such as those in First Flight’s Hangar Six, their shop manager helps with prototype designs and specifications on a 3D printer and other equipment, notes Covey. Users can then pick up the work.

A grand reopening of Hangar Six is planned. It includes a woodshop, welding shop, and heavy equipment for entrepreneurs to use to make a prototype, which often requires several iterations, Covey notes. It is a less expensive option than commercial shops, she adds.

Then, September 14 is SBIR week in the Southeast. First Flight is hosting the now virtual event in NC. Normally, Small Business Administration program managers from 15 programs would get on a bus, Covey said. Even virtually, “It is a great way for entrepreneurs seeking non-dilutive funding to meet the program managers who will review their applications,” she said.

First Flight itself celebrates its 30th anniversary next year, and plans a big celebration in the fall next year, assuming the pandemic has subsided by then.