The Download: Krista Covey, President, First Flight Venture Center

Krista Covey is the President of Research Triangle-based First Flight Venture Center. It supports the development and growth of high-science, high-impact entrepreneurial companies by providing tailored resources, offices, prototyping aid, guidance, connections, and support. First Flight is the longest-standing science and technology focused business incubator in North Carolina, founded 30 years ago. Previously, Covey was involved with entrepreneurial organizations in Texas and Florida.

  1. What is in your pockets?

I carry around a purse, and I have hand sanitizer, lots of masks. I have a hair clip, and I have about 25 pens. I have all sorts of tangled headphones sets for my various Zoom calls.

  1. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?

First Flight is a nonprofit business incubator. Our goal is to serve high-science, high-impact companies out to change the world for good. At any given time, we have about 30 to 40 resident client companies. We offer them many amenities like flexible leases. Sometimes they need to have an office and a lab for a year. Sometimes it’s a lot longer. Sometimes it’s a lot shorter.

We are actually at capacity right now and fully open. But all of our programs for serving entrepreneurs have gone virtual. We do have a couple of graduations from First Flight planned shortly. We have 25,000 square feet of space with offices and labs. We’re in the process of converting more offices into labs. We have about 40 offices and 21 labs, and now we’re looking to switch those numbers because the demand is so high.

Science is the foundation, but that means we could be serving life science companies, med-tech, hardware, software. It could be cleantech. We have some companies working to cure AIDS, and we’ve got companies that are working on new types of membranes for reverse osmosis systems that are chlorine-tolerant—that is a big problem in that industry.

We’re not just about real estate. We have multiple programs to serve our entrepreneurs at different stages. We call that our Runway to Success. We have individuals come to us with just an idea: “I have a napkin sketch. I need to know the next step.”

We’ve launched a program called Propeller, which is early-stage idea validation. We can help early-stage scientists who sometimes don’t know the language of business start to translate their science and technology into business terms. Then they can make a pitch, whether it’s to customers, or non-dilutive funding agencies.

They may be going after SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) or STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer) grant funding, or maybe going after venture firms, or angel groups. We want to make sure that they’re poised and ready to do that. One of our big, successful programs has been LiftOff, where we partner with Eva Garland Consulting. We subsidize some of the grant writing, which is very expensive but very necessary, because the grants are highly competitive.

We started that program about five years ago, and North Carolina was 16th in the nation in winning SBIR grants. We recently learned that we’re now in 7th place, Of course, it’s not just us. It’s collaborators and a lot of people pushing for this.

Over the past five years, the First Flight team with Eva Garland has invested about a quarter-million dollars. In turn, the companies have raised over $16 million in funding. We’ve been awarded the SBA FAST, which is the Federal and State Technology award. We’re one of 24, 25 organizations in the U.S. that have been awarded that.

Even though our we’re here in the Triangle, we’re able to include some rural areas, and minority, underserved, and underrepresented groups.

We’re trying to layer on programs for companies depending on where they are in their life cycle, from, “I’ve got an idea,” or, “I’m ready to commercialize,” to “I’m ready to get my first customer.” We are part of BARDA, which is the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority drive accelerators.

This is a fantastic opportunity, especially for some of our later-stage companies, to get access to funding. We’ve also had the opportunity to collaborate with other entrepreneur support organizations in the ecosystem. We’re really big into collaboration. That’s at the heart of First Flight. We don’t walk alone.

  1. What is your favorite coffee spot?

My favorite coffee spot is actually my desk. I love coffee shops. I am a coffee addict. At one point I had about seven different types of coffee makers, so I love coffee. But I have my favorite creamer and my hot plate on my desk, and so it tastes just right every time.

  1. What keeps you up at night?

Just making sure that I’m serving everyone well. I love my work.

  1. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?

I moved here during the pandemic. I would love to take a little gastronomical excursion around the Triangle and try everything and anything. So, I don’t have a favorite yet.

  1. What is next for you or your organization?

As I came on board about 11 months ago, we were able to win the EDA Build to Scale grant for $2.6 million over three years. We have this amazing opportunity for our advanced prototyping facility called Hangar6 to maximize offerings there to serve more clients that need a prototype. We have an opportunity to purchase more equipment and we’ve moved into a new space.

We are planning on celebrating our 30th year here in the Triangle and serving 30 years’ worth of clients. So, what that might look like is an in-person event towards the end of the year.

About Brooks Malone 63 Articles
Brooks Malone is a NC CPA and Partner with Hughes Pittman & Gupton, LLP, and leads the Technology practice group. Brooks is also listed contributor to the National Fast Trac Tech Curriculum that was funded by the Kauffman Foundation. Brooks was named one of the 40 Under 40 in May 2005 by the TBJ, received the Outstanding service to Entrepreneurs Award in 2008 by CED, and named to the Leadership Raleigh Hall of Fame in October 2011. Brooks is a graduate of North Carolina State University and is active at American Underground and Raleigh Founded.