New Follett Family Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Holds Grand Opening

Innovators and entrepreneurs welcome!

by Katherine Noll,

Fowler Family Southside Center Foyer

Northampton Community College's Fowler Family Southside Center held a grand opening celebration on September 27 for the Follett Family Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).

It's a brand new space that gives flight to the imagination. At a workstation in the Fab Lab, you can visualize the next Thomas Edison creating a prototype for a world-changing invention. It's easy to picture a future Oprah Winfrey in one of the brainstorming nooks, designing plans for a media empire. Or a would-be Steve Jobs, hunched over a computer and furiously typing. Even a potential J.K. Rowling, sipping a cup of coffee from the Southside Center's new eatery The Zime, as she takes advantage of the natural light and the space designed to enhance creativity, allowing the surroundings to inspire a magical new world. Or a conference table full of students, strategizing the next big thing that the world has never heard of but soon won't be able to live without, like the iPhone or Facebook.

All that hidden potential in the Lehigh Valley will have a place to be discovered at the CIE, located on the first floor of NCC's Fowler Family Southside Center.

A Bold Move
"The college established a presence in the south side of Bethlehem 13 years ago, at a time when very little was happening. Look around us now and you see the Sands, Artsquest, LV Charter School for the Arts, PBS39, National Museum of Industrial History, Perucci's Apartments 510 Flats, Factory LLC, Molinari's, great shops, great restaurants, and more. Wow!" Dr. Mark Erickson, president of NCC, said at the grand opening celebration.

Today, with the completion of the major renovations, the CIE can be added to that impressive list as another valuable resource to the local community. The CIE's mission is to provide an open learning environment where the innovative spirit, technology, and skills align to drive the entrepreneurial mindset, with accessibility and affordability key.

Initial plans include an Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, monthly lecture series, the creation of a 16-week "start-up" school, the establishment of a specialized diploma in entrepreneurship, counseling for small and minority businesses, and a student pitch competition.

In addition, NCC's Fab Lab has moved to the first floor and incorporated into the CIE. The expanded 7,500 plus square foot Fab Lab includes the Martin Guitar Luthier Lab and the following lab spaces:  electronics, computers, 3D printing, metals and machining, woodturning, woodworking, and audio and recording. "This space is designed to bring all in our community together to help them achieve their dreams, whether they are academic, business oriented, entrepreneur supporting, personally enriching, or just plain fun!" said Lauren Loeffler, vice president, workforce development/community education and dean of the Southside, said.

The Commitment of Generous Supporters
Jeanne Follett, Steve Follett, Mark Erickson, Don Follett, and Mibs Follett
None of it would have been possible, Dr. Erickson pointed out, without the generous support of several people, first and foremost The Follett Family, who the center is named for.

A $2.5M grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education was matched with private philanthropy from the college's Transforming Lives campaign. Don, Mibs, Steven, and Jeanne Follett made a generous donation to the campaign for the CIE.

"We are committed to this community, because we made our lives here, so we want to see it succeed," Don Follett, former president and CEO of Follett Corporation, said. "Having started a business in this area, and hiring people over the years, I know the better trained the employees are, the better quality of work they do, which is an incredible asset for people starting businesses here."

Steven Follett, current CEO/President at Follett Corporation and a member of NCC's Foundation Board, has had firsthand experience with how effective NCC is in training people for jobs. Follett Corporation has partnered with NCC for supervisory, welding and refrigeration training, among other instructions for many years.

"I have always had an affinity for the college because of its excellent value and affordable cost," he said. "When the Transforming Lives campaign started, we knew we wanted to be a part of it. Thinking about where to invest, the importance of entrepreneurship in our economy resonated with us. That's how jobs get created and our community becomes stronger."

In addition, the Keystone Savings Foundation and the Foltz family established chairs in entrepreneurship which will support the programming of the Center. There are also many other supporters of the CIE, many who were in attendance, who were recognized at the event.

The seeds for the CIE were planted from the generosity of Drs. W. Beall and Marlene O. "Linny" Fowler, a prominent philanthropic couple who were the leading donors to the Fowler Family Southside Center in 2005. In 2013, the community mourned the passing of Linny. Her husband Beall has been able to witness the final stages in the couple's dream for the Center.

"I've been following the Fab Lab with awe and interest since its development. These new facilities are terrific, not just for the college, but the community, which is already making great use of all the possibilities," reflected Fowler. "What I like about the Southside is that it has a different kind of energy. That combined with the CIE creating even more opportunities for the community is exciting."

No Ordinary Ribbon Cutting Would Do
Light bulb lighting at the CIE's grand opening.
Pennsylvania State Representatives Marcia Hahn and Steve Samuelson presented a proclamation recognizing the opening of the CIE, which was also endorsed by Senators Lisa Boscola and Mario Scavello.

Up next was the "ribbon cutting" ceremony.

"As you can see, we are so very proud of this extraordinary addition to the Fowler Family Southside Center and Northampton Community College, and that's why today, no ordinary ribbon cutting would do," Dr. Erickson said as a larger-than-life lightbulb, designed and created by Fab Lab instructors, was revealed.

"'Give light and people will find a way' was said by famed civil rights activist Ella Baker," Dr. Erickson continued. "That's exactly what this center is all about. When we turn on this symbolic lightbulb, we are shining a beacon to our community, letting them know that if they can dream it, they can do it, with help from the CIE. Once again, I want to thank all of you for helping this center illuminate a path for all the creative and ingenious minds in the community to follow, leading the entire region into a bigger and better future."

With the push of the button, the lightbulb illuminated the new center as confetti flew, marking the CIE officially open!

l-r: Steve Samuelson, Beall Fowler, Robert Fehnel, Jeanne Follett, Steven Follett, Raja Bhattacharya, Jeffrey Boerner, Lauren Loeffler, Mark Erickson, Diane Molewski, Mike Molewski, Marcia Hahn

Come and discover the entrepreneur in you:

CIE Hours
Open Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. To utilize the space or host a meeting, contact CIE Director Raja Bhattacharya at 610-332-8661 or  

Fab Lab Hours
Open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Saturdays are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Holiday schedule varies. Anyone interested in working on a project in the space must first book time by contacting Amy Rotzell at 610-332-8665 or, although anyone can drop by when the Fab Lab is open to check out the facilities. 

Free Fab Lab Information Session
October 10, 5:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
All are invited to tour the CIE's Fab Lab and learn about the state-of-the-art technologies that are offered: ranging from a full metal and woodshop, spray booth, 3D printers, laser cutters, a Sound Lab, guitar-making and repair studio, cold casting and more. Learn about the upcoming classes, concert series, luthier program and more!  

Lauren Loeffler, vice president of workforce development and community education
Raja Bhattacharya, director of the CIE
Jeffrey Boerner, program director of the Fab Lab  

Richard Thompson, founder and managing partner, FACTORY LLC
Peter Mayes, principal, Nitschmann Middle School
Mike Gausling, managing partner, Originate Ventures
Peter Luethi, co-founder, La Compagnie
Fred Beste III, president & CEO, Mid-Atlantic Venture Funds
Peter Morales, managing director, Black Hawk Imports
Don Follett, former president & CEO, Follett Corporation
John F. Eureyecko, president & CEO, Belhaven Capital Group, Inc.
Kevin T. Campbell, president & CEO, Barry Isett & Associates
Khanjan Mehta, vice provost for Creative Inquiry, Lehigh University
Tom Stine, president & CEO, Viddler, Inc.  

News Coverage of the CIE opening:
WFMZ report
Morning Call article
Morning Call video
Lehigh Valley Live article

Check out the photo gallery from the event and watch a video about the CIE and all it has to offer on YouTube.