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Testimonials from a few who have benefited from the NCC Fab Lab

Peter Lowe

Stephen Boerner

Donald Hoffman

Justin Jacobs

Brian Feldman

Lisa Glover

Paige Hoffman

Linda McCann

Stephanie Giannakis

Kathleen Brewster

NCC DMS Class of 2019

Peter Lowe – Adjunct Instructor to the Fab Lab

How did using the Fab Lab and working with Northampton faculty help you become an entrepreneur?

Access to the tools and community of like-minded individuals at the Fab Lab was essential for the progress I've made toward my entrepreneurial goals, and I believe NCC's proposed Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship would catalyze entrepreneurial activity in the Lehigh Valley to an even greater extent.

It's incredibly important when tackling a difficult problem to actually get hands-on and physically experience it. The partially-formed ideas floating in your head or CAD simulations evolve exponentially faster (and in unexpected directions) when you physically prototype and start trying stuff out. The NCC Fab Lab's full suite of tools and their incredible accessibility through straightforward instruction is a true gem of the East Coast.

Simply put, I could never have launched a Kickstarter campaign without the Fab Lab's extremely accessible tools which allowed me to inexpensively develop, test, and manufacture my first product. Additionally, the encouragement and support of the lab's talented staff and leadership was a great help in persisting through constant challenges and setbacks. Having successfully navigated my first product launch, I am now immensely better equipped to build and scale my next venture, and charged with confidence to take greater risks.

What makes Northampton a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship?

It is difficult to find institutions that utilize as direct a hands-on approach to designing and making as the Fab Lab. Although I had similar aspirations while pursuing my BS in engineering at a prestigious college in Pennsylvania, I never had opportunities to actually use powerful tools and learn by making as I did at the Fab Lab. However, I can attest that Stanford University uses this method with great success because it develops a kind of practical thinking unattainable through theory alone, and that for most types of work I would be equally happy in the Stanford Product Realization Lab or NCC Fab Lab.

The hugely innovative and successful Tech Shop of Silicon Valley also espouses this learning model, and produces a steady stream of entrepreneurial successes including the Lumio light, Oru Kayak, and Square payment reader.

However, examples of this level of radical hands-on instruction are very uncommon, and I've come to realize the NCC Fab Lab's full suite of incredibly accessible tools and excellent instruction is a rare gift.

The Fab Lab teaching team is top-notch. There are few makerspaces with a staff so talented and dedicated that producing a large robot from scratch utilizing sophisticated composite construction and technology like haptics would even be a possibility, let alone in six weeks! (As the staff did this spring with Tobor, the 12ft robotic arm). Additionally, the leadership of Jeff Boerner is a remarkable asset. His own track record of fanatical task focus while taking risks, perceiving and developing talent, and building and selling a successful business makes him an extremely effective mentor with a very relevant perspective to aspiring entrepreneurs.

What does this leadership mean for your future and our region's future?

In addition to providing me with immense personal satisfaction, the skills and accomplishments I built at the NCC Fab Lab became a key component of my design portfolio. This was a strong factor in my admission to the Stanford Product Design master's program which has unlocked many additional opportunities for my future. Additionally, the experiences and relationships I built at the Fab Lab will shape my life for years to come.

The Fab Lab's leadership will ensure that Northampton Community College continues to steadily increase its reputation and cement itself as an institution of the Lehigh Valley. The NCC Fab Lab's inspired model of instruction stands among the best and most innovative colleges, and the talented instructors (predominantly successful local professionals) are an incredible asset to the community which help the lab's members grow and realize their potential.

Stephen Boerner, Fab Lab Student and Guest Lecturer

How did using the Fab Lab and working with Northampton faculty help you become an entrepreneur?

The business mentorship I received at the Fab Lab shaped me into who I am as a businessperson today. Through their support, I opened my own company. The company I created is now a partner organization with the Fab Lab as we work together to inspire more entrepreneurship in South Bethlehem.

What makes Northampton a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship?

As the Founder of my own business, I've personally been a guest lecturer in entrepreneurial youth classes at Northampton Community College's Fab Lab. Creating an entrepreneurial community doesn't happen overnight. It requires inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs to think and build differently. In that class, I witnessed an 11 year old girl with her own e-commerce jewelry company and a team of teenagers with a wooden box company. Being a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship means welcoming a community, no matter the age, gender, race, or ability. As a community, we are now seeing how our youth is turning into job creators and impacting our economy. That is a very powerful transition to witness.

What does this leadership mean for your future and our region's future?

The Fab Lab at Northampton Community College operates like a business and sets a great example for local entrepreneurs. It also sets an example for Fab Labs in the region and around the country. Economic development leaders and educational institutions understand that a strongly supported Fab Lab is a commonality among leading entrepreneurial communities. They visit Northampton Community College's Fab Lab to learn from and model after. Our Fab Lab being a focal point of excellence is not only inspiring to entrepreneurs in our immediate community, but it's inspiring to Fab Labs everywhere looking to replicate the impact we've felt here.

Hatch House Ventures is a network of startup incubators with headquarters in Bethlehem, PA.

Donald Hoffman, Luthier Certification Student

Dear Jeff,

As you know, I've come to Northampton Community College and specifically the Fab Lab because I'm preparing to transition from a career in law enforcement to a career as an entrepreneur in the "Maker Movement." Prior to spending two decades as a Bethlehem police officer, I was self-employed as a kitchen and bath designer/installer, and also worked as a graphic artist. NCC and the Fab Lab are giving me all the resources I need to reinvigorate my "artisan" side, and simultaneously lay the groundwork for the "business" side of bringing my talents and skills to market.

Since learning about the Fab Lab, I've taken a number of courses, including "Fab Lab and the Entrepreneur, Music Production and Recording Techniques, the Three Hour Box, Woodworking Beyond the Basics, and both the Guitar Maintenance, Set Up, and Repair lite and certification." I'm now in the final stages realizing a lifelong dream, building a guitar, through completion of "Acoustic Guitar Building-The Basics." I'm committed to completing the entire Luthier Certification Program, which I know will give me a skill set I can use, not only should I choose a path in the guitar and musical instrument industry, but also in any endeavor involving creating things from wood and other materials.

One of the most remarkable things I've found at the Fab Lab since I've become a member of its community is the wealth of opportunities to make new connections with incredible people in its ever growing network. From world class craftsman and luthiers, to recording engineers, to inventors, to technicians, to musicians, to teachers, the opportunity for forging relationships with new friends and colleagues in the "Maker Movement," through the Fab Lab, seems limitless. And, it's a community that continues to grow and grow as more and more creative and inventive people find out about the Fab Lab and what's happening there.

Finally, one of the most encouraging things about my association with the Fab Lab and NCC is that when attending classes at NCC and the Fab Lab, I'm surrounded by folks my age (mid-fifties) or older. In a work world where the classic complaint is against "age discrimination" and a lack of opportunity for "veterans in the workforce," we're finding a world of opportunity to develop and market our skills that's limited only by our own level of commitment, imagination, and vigor to pursue our dreams. I'm as excited about the future now as I have ever been in my life. And thanks to NCC and the Fab Lab, I'm moving towards that future with a solid base of knowledge that will help me make intelligent choices and make viable plans with a very good chance to succeed.

Thanks,
Don Hoffman

Justin Jacobs – Adjunct Instructor and active member of the Fab lab NCC Community of Makers

How did using the Fab Lab and working with Northampton faculty help you become an entrepreneur?

The FAB Lab didn't help me become an entrepreneur, The teachers, students, and the spirit that coalesces within each person that steps foot within its walls are what helped me find direction in life. It was the people who helped me see the entrepreneur within myself. Support from those who believe in me and invaluable lessons shared amongst friends will be with me for the rest of my life. The lab is also a playground for people who want to make things. I am able to access the tools I didn't have at home nor could I afford. I am able to make the ideas in my head into tangible things. This gave me the confidence to learn new technologies I never would have been able to use without the lab.

My time at the FAB Lab has been transformative. Late night conversations, passionate work, collaborative projects, and being surrounded by passionate people led me down this road. After 2 years at the lab, I built a guitar that raised $70,000 for cystic fibrosis, quit my job at CF Martin, backpacked through Europe, and am currently pursuing a Masters of Engineering in Entrepreneurship at Lehigh University. All steps in which I may have never have taken if it wasn't for the mentorship of the faculty and culture of the lab.

What makes Northampton a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship?

This FAB Lab has a collective culture of selfless instructors who help one another and those who want to learn. If anything, Northampton Community College could learn a lot from the FAB Lab. I have worked in many labs and factories. The culture within the lab plants the seeds of creativity within everyone that walks through its doors. That seed is watered with support and belief in each other's creativity. The versatility of courses allows anyone to grow and branch into new areas. This kind of culture is fast moving, a whirl wind unlike anything NCC has likely ever encountered.

I don't believe NCC is a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. The FAB lab, under leadership of Jeff Boerner, has been growing exponentially since my start as an instructor. Jeff is in the driver's seat of one of the best labs in the country, not because of the equipment, but because of the culture. Very few labs have this culture, most create a sterile space full of modern technology. Because of this, NCC has the opportunity to pull ahead. Investing in innovation guarantees the economic stability of the county's future. The FAB Lab is just a microcosm for the norm of how businesses and people will think in the future. The lab can be so much more and expand into to so many more areas that is has yet to tread. It is only the beginning, and with the right funding and support from the college, the FAB Lab has the potential to lead the way.

What does this leadership mean for your future and our region's future?

Everyone that comes to the lab does so with a passion to do something they haven't yet done. They want to learn, they crave for more. The thirst for knowledge is evident. This is absent amongst many of my peers who are currently pursuing a normal degree. The lab is drawing upon the right people bringing in the right attitudes to a developing city. Without the lab, Bethlehem would just be another town in need of economic development, now it holds the potential for the Lehigh Valley's growth. It gives the nerds, craftsman, critical thinkers and entrepreneurs a reason to stay instead of seeking safety in the culture in Silicon Valley. If we do it right and keep up the momentum, the lab could lead the way to make the Lehigh Valley a true innovative place that can draw geniuses of the world to aspire to come. "If you want to change the world, start by making your bed."

Brian Feldman – Adjunct Instructor Electronics/Fab Lab

How did using the Fab Lab and working with Northampton faculty help you become an entrepreneur?

Being involved with the Fab Lab has helped me become more active and well-known in the community for what I do, not only by meeting other incredibly talented people in the Fab Lab, but through our outreach activities such as teaching classes and demonstrating Tobor, our Fab Lab Robot, at two World Maker Faires and other local events. The Fab Lab is a place where great ideas get tossed around and as an entrepreneur it's especially important to continue to be exposed to new ideas and people to keep up with what's going on in the world.

Through my involvement with the Fab Lab I've helped build and design a device to enhance the safety of machine tools by indicating when blades are spinning, been able to test it, and I am in the process of working to obtain a patent for it. With the tools and experience at the Fab Lab it's also going to be possible to go into the first round of production and refine the product before making a large capital investment.

What makes Northampton a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship?

Bringing people with diverse skillsets and backgrounds together – 3D printing, woodworking, casting, metal working, robotics, electronics, laser cutting, guitar building, and sound editing and so much more.

Everyone involved with the Fab Lab has some level of entrepreneurial spirit, whether it's wanting to start their own business, trying to start their own business, or running their own business. They love to build and create things.

It's the only place I've seen in the Lehigh Valley where such a diverse group of skills are brought together and the facility is set up to help people actually create things, as opposed to just getting together and talking about it.

The people who teach at the Fab Lab are incredibly bright and motivated individuals and many have backgrounds from top-notch schools such as Lafayette, Lehigh, Moravian, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon. There are very few places that attract that level of talent outside of research labs or innovative companies like Tesla, Apple, and Google.

The Fab Lab makes it easy for people to get together to share ideas, experiment, and create prototypes with no risk. It makes it easy to get access to top-notch machinery and tools and to meet the people that can help you build your dreams.

What does this leadership mean for your future and our region's future?

The Lehigh Valley has historically had a problem with brain-drain as young people leave the area for the lure of big cities, such as Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Washington, Seattle, and Silicon Valley. If you look at Pittsburgh – the city has undergone an amazing transformation from a last-generation manufacturing hub since the closure of the steel mills to a vibrant city attracting young people full of startups cultivated by Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, in conjunction with other local programs to encourage and assist entrepreneurs with advice and funding. The Lehigh Valley has a lot of the elements in place that Pittsburgh does from great universities that encourage entrepreneurship to Ben Franklin Technology Partners to incubate startups, but we need facilities where people can come and have access to the tools to create prototypes and experiment without a major outlay of capital. Many of the most entrepreneurial people in the area are either college students or recent grads, or are thinking about doing something in addition to the rest of their lives, and having access to the tools available at the Fab Lab removes a huge barrier of needing to get funding for many of these experimental projects. In addition, the Fab Lab helps cultivate these businesses by bringing together people of such diverse backgrounds to share ideas and help each other learn.

Lisa Glover; Adjunct Instructor to the Fab Lab – laser technology. Creator and Owner of Kit Rex

How did using the Fab Lab and working with Northampton faculty help you become an entrepreneur?

Using the Fab Lab has given me access to resources that could not only help me prototype my current line of products, but innovate and improve upon them, allowing me to create products that stand out in a fiercely competitive market. I learn a tremendous amount about running a business from the other faculty at the Fab Lab. As a solo entrepreneur, one spends a lot of time staring at their business and ideas from a very close proximity. Many of the faculty are entrepreneurs and creative innovators themselves- I can bring my thoughts and struggles to them, and their perspective often yields insight that would have taken me much more time and resources to discover myself. In short, I can prototype faster and make better decisions using the physical and mental resources of the Fab Lab.

What makes Northampton a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship?

The effort that Northampton has put towards continuing to improve the resources for budding entrepreneurs and tinkerers helps it to be a leader in innovation. Many things that could seem almost frivolous from outside of the Fab Lab (ex. obtaining a second, costly laser cutter) are invaluable within the lab itself (this laser could cut much larger, thicker, different material, opening up many doors for creativity and ideation, which can bring many more people in to use it). The lab is a very open environment compared to many other technology labs, which are often open only to enrolled students and thus inaccessible to the community at large. It is a space that invites collaboration, one where I often know someone's project and interests before I know their name. This is because the focus is on ideas, on passion, and on sharing knowledge; and everyone is eager to share. Innovation happens where passionate people are exposed to other passionate people and their ideas, processes, and expertise; Northampton makes that possible because of spaces like its Fab Lab.

In order to encourage entrepreneurship, for many more timid people like myself, there needs to be active demonstration that success in entrepreneurship is possible. The Fab Lab is overflowing with entrepreneurs- people who have taken risks and found hard-won success, who know how to take a seed of an idea and grow it into something beautiful, beneficial, or prosperous. Jeff Boerner is a great example of this, taking the lessons he learned as a business owner and applying them to how he runs the Fab Lab, providing room for instructors to take chances, learn, and innovate as they teach more interesting courses that bring greater value to the community. That attitude to ideate, prototype, test, and refine trickles from the way we instructors improve our courses down to the people taking them, leading them to return to learn more and keep creating. Being in a creative environment, hearing about where people hope to (and have) taken their projects, it helps people to believe that they, too, can take their ideas to the next level. Most of these won't go on to become the next smartphone or Facebook, but in an environment like the Fab Lab, anything could happen!

What does this leadership mean for your future and our region's future?

The Northampton Fab Lab is one of several institutions in the Valley at the forefront of the entrepreneurial 'maker' revolution that is sweeping the nation. This movement is a part two of the digital revolution- just like computers, which were first seen to be something only needed by large companies, the tools to innovate, too, are slowly becoming accessible and of interest to the masses. Soon, it could be easier for the average person to build the solution to a small problem as it presently is for them to tweet about it (think cheap 3D printers). But the most important part of innovating and creating isn't the tools- it's the space and the human capital around them, it's the ecosystem. Northampton is building this ecosystem, nestled in a valley filled with old shop spaces and manufacturing facilities just waiting to be brought to life again. Many places claim to be the next 'Silicon Valley', but I do believe the Lehigh Valley, in its prime location between many major metropolitan areas, with its numerous colleges and universities, and its focus on makerspaces, incubators, art, and technology, has a real shot at being that and so much more. Northampton has the potential to continue to be a leader, and help to build that momentum.

On a personal note, that's why I stay here, and that's why I keep my business here, because I believe in that future, and I want to be a part of it, helping in any way I can. It's exciting!

Paige Hoffman; Community School Director at Fountain Hill Elementary School

Dear Jeff, Amy and Deb,

Thank you all so much for making Fountain Hill Student Council's trip to the Fab Lab a reality! The kids had a BLAST and were extremely excited about all that they learned. We truly appreciate the time and energy you spent with our students. I very much look forward to hopefully working with you again in the future! As mentioned, we would be thrilled to host in-school or after-school Fab Lab programming at Fountain Hill. If that ever becomes a reality please don't hesitate to contact me. We will do everything in our power to make it happen!

Best,
Paige

Linda McCann; Director of Library Services at Bucks County Community College

Dear Jeff,

I want to thank you for the time you spent with us yesterday. You have a fabulous facility and program. You should be very proud. The passion for what you do was evident. We shared some of the information you provided with interested faculty and students at Bucks today.  

Best,  

Linda

Stephanie Giannakis; NCC Student

I used the Fab Lab to build my graphic design portfolio. I learned so much and the staff was so kind, helpful and down to earth! I received tons of complements on the final product and it wouldn't have been possible without their help. Thank you!

Stephanie Giannakis

NCC Diagnostic Medical Sonography Students

Dear Jeff,
As a class, we wanted to thank you for the opportunity to visit the Fab Lab and make the phantoms. It was extremely educational for us, because we were able to build something directly relating to what we were learning. The Fab Lab is so unique, and has a lot of resources for so many different people! We also wanted to thank you for all of the hard work and research you put in for us to be able to come and make the phantoms. Thank you!!

-Diagnostic Medical Sonography (DMS) class of 2019

Kathleen Brewster; Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Pennridge School District

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