RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — First Flight Venture Center’s unique Research Triangle Park prototyping facility, Hangar6, has landed a $2.6 million federal grant to help it keep building on its success.

The grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration reaffirmed the pilot program’s success, providing funding for additional equipment and staff. The $2.6 million will be distributed over two years and is part of the EDA’s 2020 Build-to-Scale awards. FFVC launched Hangar6 in 2016 as an EDA i6-funded pilot program.

The only facility of its kind in North Carolina, Hangar6 is equipped with tools and training to help entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses build prototypes quickly.

“Hangar6 is a center for advanced prototyping,” said Krista Covey, FFVC’s president. “In addition to equipment, we have a manager who helps businesses go through the iterative, prototyping process. This can be expensive for startups, and many can’t create prototypes because they don’t have the resources.”

Membership programs give entrepreneurs and startups access to prototype-producing equipment at a cost that is significantly lower than if they did it on their own.

“Most prototyping facilities work with big projects, which makes it difficult when you are trying to come up with an initial prototype. The cost can be really prohibitive,” Covey pointed out.

FFVC will use the grant to improve equipment and resources for its members.

“We will purchase more equipment, upgrade equipment and hire more individuals with design experience to help entrepreneurs,” said Covey.

In addition to purchasing new equipment and hiring additional staff, Hangar6 will use the grant funding  to improve businesses’ time-to-market and capital efficiencies with better-designed fabrication parts. As a result, businesses will have an even better chance of raising capital for producing new products in a competitive marketplace.

Collaboration central to Hangar6 success

FFVC has nearly 50 partners across the state that support Hangar6.

“People and organizations have given us in-kind matches, time and mentoring,” said Covey. “We have a heart for collaboration, and we want everyone we work with to be successful.”

Hangar6 partners Touchstone 3D and Trig Labs provide training for entrepreneurs and startups. As part of FFVC’s goal to introduce Hangar6 to startups across the state, the Research Triangle Regional Partnership is hosting educational sessions in the eight counties surrounding RTP to grow awareness of Hangar6.

Hangar6 will also be launching the program Talking Shop. The organization’s partners will answer questions and hold workshops that will take a deeper dive into developing initial prototypes.

“Our focus is really on the startup,” said Covey. “We are hoping to turn the startups into sustainable businesses. We also want to create lifelong partnerships that benefit the entrepreneurs and Hangar6’s collaborative partners.”

Covey, who became FFVC’s president just four months ago, is grateful for the ongoing support the incubator receives.

“We want to express our gratitude to all of our partners who made this possible,” she said. “For me personally, it was a wonderful welcome into the community because I got to see the collaborative ecosystem we have in the Triangle.”

(c) North Carolina Biotechnology Center