Machelle Baker Sanders confirmed her oath of office as Secretary of Commerce of North Carolina during a ceremony at the First Flight Venture Center on Monday. The selection of Secretary Sanders for the Research Triangle Park venue recognizes the continued importance of innovation, entrepreneurship and inclusion to the state’s economy.
Secretary Sanders takes on her role on the first day of Women’s History Month and shortly after Black History Month as the first African American and African American woman to head the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Following the ceremony, Secretary Sanders toured the RTP technology incubator, including stops at Hanger6, First Flight’s precision prototyping facility, and NALA Systems, a women-owned company based in First Flight that designs reverse osmosis membranes to ensure availability of Fresh water improve the globe.
“Innovation and new ideas are the rocket fuel of the North Carolina economy,” said Secretary Sanders. “As a senior biotechnology executive, I have seen the huge impact that corporate innovation has on our state. We must welcome everyone to contribute and then act with conscious intent to promote and support these ideas, especially those highly influential companies that solve global problems. “
The First Flight Venture Center (FFVC) is North Carolina’s original science-based technology incubator, first developed by the Department of Commerce before being spun off from the agency to become a stand-alone, not-for-profit company. Today FFVC is one of the largest and most stable incubators in the country with a proven track record. During her visit with FFVC President Krista Covey, Secretary Sanders visited Hanger6, an equipment-rich Do It Yourself (DIY) facility that enables entrepreneurs to streamline the critical but often costly process of developing a product prototype.
“We are honored to host Secretary Sanders’ confirmation ceremony here at First Flight,” said FFVC President Krista Covey. “We are aligned in our vision to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and inclusivity for all people who want to commercialize their scientific ideas. This is our 30th anniversary! We have worked hard to allocate resources and remove barriers to allow 400+ companies to enter the market. One way First Flight has supported this mission is through programming specifically designed to support businesses from minority, women and rural areas. We are honored to represent North Carolina as one of 24 SBA Federal and State Technology (FAST) winners, enabling underserved businesses to apply for and award non-dilutive Innovation Research / Technology Transfer for Small Business (SBIR / STTR) grants gain new research and innovation. We look forward to our next 30 years of service! “
Secretary Sanders also visited FFVC member firm NALA Systems, a female-owned cleantech startup led by a dynamic mother-daughter team that is working to expand membrane materials and products available for desalination and water purification. This technological breakthrough will make a difference in expanding the freshwater available to meet the needs of human populations, industry and agriculture. CEO Sue Mecham, Ph.D. and her mother Dr. Judy Riffle bring over 50 years of polymer science experience to addressing a major problem in the world, the growing shortage of freshwater in many places around the world. The new reverse osmosis membranes from NALA Systems offer improved performance, efficiency and durability of current commercial products.
“We were honored to attend the ceremony in honor of Secretary Sanders’ appointment,” said Dr. Mecham, CEO of NALA Systems. “As a female-led team, we particularly value their attention to our work building a product and business that will positively impact the global water crisis. NALA Systems was fortunate to find a supportive community in RTP and FFVC. Our work was supported by early stage and impact investors, Good Growth Capital (GGC) and Oval Park Capital, North Carolina angel investors from RTP Capital and Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE), and the National Science Foundation’s SBIR program . We look forward to being part of Secretary Sanders in her new role and supporting businesses in North Carolina, including small innovative businesses, especially those led by women and minority groups. “
Many of the companies with roots in FFVC have received grants over the years from NC Commerce’s One North Carolina Small Business Program, a fund that continues to support North Carolina’s emerging tech companies with grants in line with state technology grants. The Department’s Science, Technology and Innovation Bureau manages the fund and recently completed its final round of grants, awarding $ 1.5 million to 29 companies.
Secretary Sanders joins the Department of Commerce after serving as Secretary for the North Carolina Department of Administration. Prior to joining Governor Roy Cooper’s cabinet, Secretary Sanders was Vice President of Manufacturing and General Manager of Biogen’s largest and most modern manufacturing facility in RTP. She has 30 years of pharma / biotechnology experience and has held leadership positions in manufacturing, global quality assurance and quality control at Biogen, Purdue Pharmaceuticals and Diosynth-Akzo Nobel.
North Carolina Supreme Court Assistant Justice Michael Morgan took the oath of office to Secretary Sanders on Monday. The North Carolina Senate is expected to convene a ratification hearing for Secretary Sanders in the coming weeks.
For more information about the First Flight Venture Center, NALA Systems, and the division’s technology-driven One North Carolina Small Business program, visit the following websites: