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First Flight Venture Center Earns 2018 Grant from U.S. Small Business Administration Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program

First Flight Venture Center (First Flight), a Research Triangle Park-based science and technology incubator for North Carolina entrepreneurs, has been awarded a $125,000 grant by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program. First Flight is one of just 24 national recipient organizations recognized nationwide that provide support to science-focused entrepreneurs developing innovative and disruptive technologies. The FAST grant specifically recognized First Flight’s ability to expand its successful LiftOff and grant writing program to include under-represented entrepreneurial companies across North Carolina.

“Receiving this FAST grant enables First Flight to expand the proven benefits of our LiftOff Program statewide in North Carolina to provide outreach and critical support for early stage science-focused companies in rural communities, as well as traditionally under-represented entrepreneurs, including women and minorities,” explained Andrew Schwab, president of FFVC. “The strategic investor readiness evaluation and grant proposal support that our LiftOff Program provides to these entrepreneurs will enable a new generation of science and technology-focused companies to successfully secure additional SBA funding to advance the development of technologies that will benefit all North Carolinians and the world.”

First Flight’s LiftOff Program is an innovative “financial force multiplier” designed to assist entrepreneurs developing a scientific or technology business in obtaining early nondilutive funding for their start-ups, funding that will not reduce your ownership share. After an initial vetting process, participating companies are guided through the grant development and application process. This exponentially increases their chance to obtain early-stage funding, allowing them to remain self-sustaining during their start-up phase, before later seeking angel investors or venture capital funds. 

Proposals for the FAST awards were limited to one per state or U.S. territory, based on the endorsement of each governor. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper made the recommendation for First Flight’s application and as reported by the Small Business Administration, the field of applicants was highly competitive.

The SBA’s FAST program is designed to stimulate economic development by providing training, financial support, and business expertise to technology-focused small businesses, with an emphasis on helping women-owned, rural-based, and socially/economically disadvantaged firms to participate in SBA development programs, such as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) initiatives.

“FAST partners are an important part of the innovation entrepreneur ecosystem,” said SBA administrator Linda McMahon. “They provide training, financial and technical assistance for small, next-generation technology businesses, and help them navigate Federally-funded innovation and R&D programs.”

In its 2017 annual report (, First Flight detailed the positive impact of its programs for North Carolina, including quadrupling of the number of companies participating the LiftOff program since its 2016 inception, with non-dilutive funding awards received increasing from $1.3 million in 2016 to $10.2 million in 2017.

“The First Flight LiftOff Program, as expanded by this FAST grant, will benefit companies in rural areas of North Carolina as well as women- and minority-owned businesses that have historically had more difficulty in securing grants from SBA programs,” said Michael Cunningham, chair of the NC Board of Science, Technology & Innovation. “This beneficial program complements our efforts to diversify the geographic distribution of Federal small-business technology grants across rural areas in North Carolina.”

First Flight’s LiftOff program has received several awards to provide increased funding over the last two years, including: a $50,000 grant from the SBA Growth Accelerator Fund Competition; a $100,000 grant from the NC IDEA Foundation, a private foundation committed to supporting entrepreneurial business innovation and economic advancement in North Carolina; a $50,000 grant from the Wege Foundation, a foundation that focuses on grants to organizations that enhance the lives of people and preserve the health of the environment; and a $30,000 Presidential Initiative Award from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Partners in the First Flight FAST Program Application

• NC IDEA Foundation, Thom Rhue, President & CEO

• NC Central University Department of Math & Physics, professor Caesar Jackson

• NC Rural Center, Patrick Woodie, President & CEO
• UNC Kenan Flagler Business School, Ted Zoller, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies

• UNC Kickstart Venture Services, Don Rose, Director

• Eva Garland Consulting, Dr. Eva Garland, Founder & CEO

• UNC Wilmington Center for Marine Science (MARBIONC), Dr. Daniel G. Baden, Director

First Flight Venture Center is located at 2 Davis Drive in Research Triangle Park, NC. For more information, visit the First Flight website at
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