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NCC Entrepreneurship Center ‘Shining a Beacon’ in South Side Bethlehem

By Colin McEvoy on September 28, 2018

A simple ribbon-cutting for the Northampton Community College’s new Follett Family Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship just wouldn’t do.

Instead, a giant multi colored light bulb with the NCC logo was designed and created by instructors from the center, and was lit as a symbol for all the new ideas and innovations they hope the South Bethlehem facility will inspire.

“Famed civil rights activist Ella Baker once said ‘Give light and people will find the way,’” NCC President Mark Erickson said at the Sept. 27 ceremony, which was attended by more than 150 people.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing here today,” Erickson said. “By turning on this light bulb, we’re shining a beacon out into our community, letting them know, if they can dream it, they can make it happen, with help from the center.”

The ceremony and marked the conclusion of a $5 million renovation at the Fowler Family Southside Center, located at 511 E. Third St. That project included a new business center, and expansion of the “Fab Lab,” and improvements to the exterior to the building.

The six-story center is the latest part of a thriving ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation in South Side Bethlehem, which also includes with Lehigh University, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ).

“It was a little over 13 years ago that we first put a stake in the ground in this part of the city,” Erickson said. “Look around us now. Back then, there wasn’t much to get energized about when you looked out a window. That’s not the case anymore.”

The Fab Lab, short for “fabrication laboratory,” is located on the third floor of the building, and includes space for everything from woodworking and guitar-making to machining and audio recording.

“This space is really at the intersection of academics and experiential and hands-on learning,” Erickson said. “They learn the theory, but also get to put the theory into practice with their hands.”

It can be used not just by students, but also by companies prototyping their products and entrepreneurs trying to advance their startups. Erickson said classes have already taken place there, and Richard Thompson of Factory LLC, a south Bethlehem project designed to lure food and beverage companies to the Lehigh Valley, has already utilized it as well.

“The Fab Lab is a bit of a wonderland,” said Lauren Loeffler, NCC Vice President of  Workforce Development and Community Education. “Get ready to get creative.”

Jeff Boerner, director of the Fab Lab, is a member of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation’s (LVEDC) Entrepreneurial Council of the Lehigh Valley.

The center also includes classrooms with large windows for natural light, an art gallery, restaurant called The Zime, community space for small musical performances, and a refurbished front lobby with large windows.

The project was funded in part by a $2.5 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The remaining $2.5 million was raised in private funds.

The Follett Family Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and the Fab Lab is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

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