RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The masks are coming off and the Zoom sessions are now an option. It’s back to face-to-face for many  events in the Triangle.

With falling COVID-19 cases, high vaccination rates and gathering restrictions lifted, Triangle-area tech organizations are welcoming a renewed return to normalcy as they resume in-person events for the first time since the pandemic began.

The situation was very different in October, when WRAL TechWire asked local organizations whether they planned to return to live events anytime soon. “Sometime in early 2021” was the consensus at the time.

Now, about seven months later, local groups share a greater sense of comfort and certainty in meeting face-to-face again. WRAL TechWire surveyed five of the top business and technology organizations to gauge their plans on returning to live events. All said they’re either already doing so or plan to start in the near future.

Read about their plans here:

First Flight Venture Center

First Flight Venture Center (FFVC), a startup incubator in Research Triangle Park, will host its first public in-person event this week as a part of its ongoing Talking Shop lunch-and-learn series.

Starting Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., Advanced Prototyping and You will cover how advanced prototyping can support R&D and bring an idea into development. After the presentation, attendees will take a tour of Hangar6, FFVC’s prototyping lab, to see the 3D printers, laser cutter equipment and more machines available.

Dan Webb, who runs marketing at the First Flight Venture Center, says that as the pandemic prompted the organization to pivot to using platforms like Zoom and Airmeet, it was able to continue offering its Hangar6 educational seminars, its FAST Bootcamp startup cohort, and its newest Propeller business accelerator program.

Previously, FFVC held a monthly hybrid event series called “Itineraries” for its resident companies. Attendees would hear lunchtime presentations and mingle and network during work hours. Anyone who wasn’t able to attend in person could still be digitally present in the room on the conference room television via Zoom.

FFVC plans to host more education seminars events for the next two years at minimum, Webb says. Hangar6 will also debut an in-person/hybrid event on product development and design thinking later this month. And it has multiple masterclass events coming up with the possibility of being hybrid.

“We have many resident companies who are interested in in-person events and additionally some who are strongly enthusiastic about returning to these events as well,” Webb says. “For those who cannot attend in person, we are trying to still make events accessible via Zoom.”

He adds, “With such a great location in the heart of RTP as well as facility capacity, in-person events are FFVC’s bread and butter.”

Asked whether the return to live events will affect ticket pricing, Webb said FFVC doesn’t charge a fee for events outside of its lengthy masterclasses and multi-session accelerator programs.

Research Triangle Park’s Frontier

Research Triangle Park has also started pivoting to offering in-person events at Frontier RTP, its innovation-focused campus and coworking space.

The Frontier currently runs a hybrid RTPfit Meditation series where attendees join a guided meditation session via Zoom or on the campus’ hammocks, spaced 6 feet apart in the trees surrounding the building. Aside from that, Frontier RTP’s popular “On the Menu” workshop series will commence in person next month, while its monthly “RTP180” panel series and “Out Of Office” happy hours will resume in August.

Amanda Frystock Ronan, RTP’s director of programs, says the new event lineup will be rooted in “better sanitizing habits, layouts, signage, and understanding and grace for others.”

The move was informed by a survey of Frontier tenant companies a few months ago, gauging their comfort level for both indoor and outdoor events. “This was before restrictions started lifting, and even then, more than half of those who answered were ready to be in person,” Ronan says. “Now that restrictions have lifted, we get many emails, calls and drop-bys from folks begging us to bring back events. We are ready.”

She added that RTP will continue offering virtual opportunities where possible to remain accessible to those who have health concerns or aren’t local to the Triangle.

All Frontier RTP events are free and open to the public, and Ronan says this tradition will continue in a post-COVID world.

Boxyard RTP Opening

Frontier RTP’s return to live events coincides with the opening of neighboring Boxyard RTP, a new retail and dining space operating out of repurposed shipping containers.

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Last week, WRAL TechWire covered the in-person Boxyard RTP launch, which drew a turnout of about 200 people despite heavy rain. Some Boxyard tenants officially opened for business last Saturday, while others plan to open later this summer.

Boxyard RTP will have a full calendar of events with live music and makers markets in the coming weeks. A Triangle Pop-Up Market is slated for June 19 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“COVID-19 will never be far from our minds when putting on events,” Ronan says, “but we have grown and adapted from this experience and will be able to provide a safe experience for this new community in our indoor/outdoor facility.”

North Carolina Biotechnology Center

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center (or NCBiotech) is doing things a bit differently at its RTP-based Conference Center, which has been hosting in-person events since June 1, 2020, per state and Durham County guidelines.

NCBiotech Conference Center Director Jamie Martin says all room setups were adjusted for the six-foot social distancing guidance and reduced capacity, cleaning schedules increased with additional staffing and frequent disinfecting on high touch surfaces, sanitizer stations were placed throughout the common areas, and individual sanitizer bottles were at every seat for each attendee. This in addition to implementing mask requirements and COVID screening questions for people entering the building.

“Although we were not extremely busy, we did have quite a few bookings for in-person meetings,” Martin says. “Most bookings were companies who needed the extra space to allow for social distancing to hold in-person/hybrid company trainings and meetings.”

As the vaccines rolled out and restrictions slowly lifted, NCBiotech’s Conference Center has continued to see an increase in bookings, especially over the past month.

Martin says the center has received many requests for full capacity events in the late summer and early fall.

“We will continue to remain diligent on increased cleaning and sanitizing protocols as well as remaining in compliance with any COVID guidelines or restrictions from the state of North Carolina and Durham County,” Martin adds. “We are looking forward to things returning to a more normalcy and seeing the Conference Center buzzing with guests.”

North Carolina Technology Association

The North Carolina Technology Association (or NC TECH) hasn’t hosted any in-person programs in the past year, aside from its flagship annual Golf Classic event in Pinehurst last summer. The membership organization will host its Golf Classic in person again this August, followed by its annual Leadership Summit at the Pinehurst Resort. Last year’s Leadership Summit was canceled due to COVID-19.

Already, tickets to the Golf Classic are nearly sold out, says Michelle Calton, vice president of strategy and development at NC TECH. She says there’s a demand from companies who want to gather for golf and sponsor guest CIO/CISO executives, which is a significant component of the tournament.

Fittingly, the theme of this year’s NC TECH Leadership Summit is “Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage.” Attendees can attend in person or virtually on Aug. 12 and Aug. 13. Calton says, “a hybrid event made the most sense to us based on corporate policies still in place.”

Calton added that NC TECH envisions weaving in some in-person and smaller executive receptions or dinners in the second half of the year. It already has several virtual programs in the works, such as its Summit for Women in Tech in September, NC TECH Virtual Job Expo in October, and the launch of its Board-Ready Bootcamp leadership program later this year. Still, the organization plans to hold its annual NC TECH Awards Gala in person at the Raleigh Convention Center this November.

NC TECH CEO Brooks Raiford held a virtual roundtable last month to speak with member companies on issues and timelines around returning to office procedures. And last week, the organization polled tech CEOs and site leaders of tech hubs to gauge their sentiment on post-COVID employment and workplace considerations, the impact of the past year on their business, office space and remote work moving forward, corporate in-person engagement, and other factors.

Those findings will be shared in a virtual event this Wednesday titled Work Forward: What’s Next?. Raiford will review the poll results and lead a panel discussion with leaders from companies like Raleigh-based SoftPro and Davis Moore, Greensboro law firm Brooks Pierce, Credit Karma’s Charlotte office and Blue Acorn iCi in South Carolina.


RIoT, an Internet of Things-focused organization in Raleigh, announced in an email newsletter last week that it would be returning to in-person programming starting this month.

RIoT Executive Director Tom Snyder says that decision was driven mainly by market feedback from business partners and event audience participants who said they’re ready and eager to get back in person.

“Our job is to serve that market need, and so we are planning and executing several in-person events in the [third quarter of this year] and have more planned for Q4,” Snyder adds. “That said, we will make every effort to provide digital access for those who are not yet comfortable to be in person, or who are unable to do so for whatever health reason.”

In the coming months, RIoT will hold in-person events in the Triangle area and other parts of North Carolina, and across its out-of-state presence in Colorado and Virginia.

On June 15, RIoT will celebrate the launch of the new Gig East Exchange space in Wilson, as the organization continues its expansion east of the Triangle. RIoT’s event, Connecting Rural Communities to the Global Economy, will gather City of Wilson leaders and local startups for a discussion on economic development and tech growth in eastern North Carolina.

The latest cohort of RIoT’s startup accelerator, the RIoT Accelerator Program (or RAP), will commence in person this week in Raleigh. RIoT says it will mark the first post-pandemic, in-person cohort, with some teams tuning in virtually.

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On July 27 at the Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, RIoT will host a live pitch event for its RIoT Your Reality AR Challenge, an augmented reality technology development program launched earlier this year. Six teams will pitch their projects for a chance to win up to $40,000 and a spot in the next RAP cohort. Snyder is hoping for a significant turnout at the 1,000-seat venue.

“A lot of technology advancement has happened in the past year,” Snyder added. “We are extremely excited to showcase and demonstrate technologies in person that are difficult to translate across a webinar.”

Asked whether the return to live events will have any impact on ticket pricing, Snyder said RIoT plans to continue its practice of never charging any admission price or ticket fee for its events.