Sometimes big ideas need a little extra room to grow. Just ask Michael Gorski, whose 3D printer manufacturing company, Filament Innovations, quickly outgrew his tiny spare bedroom in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and expanded to a dual shop in a basement and a garage. But it didn’t stop there.
“My wife and I had to keep moving to find more space to make the printers,” the 30-year-old Gorski said. “Now we have a 1,500-square-foot manufacturing shop, but we anticipate that we’ll need to double its size by the end of the year. It’s a good problem to have.”
Like most young entrepreneurs, Gorski works hard, but he’s quick to point out he doesn’t work alone. Along with his wife, Marianne, he credits the Follett Family Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem as one of the most instrumental partners in his company’s success.
The CIE’s potential to serve as the Lehigh Valley’s hub for innovation and entrepreneurial thinking attracted a $200,000 grant from the BB&T Economic Growth Fund in 2017 to support its creation.
The 30,000-square-foot CIE officially opened its doors in 2018 and offers students and community residents plenty of state-of-the-art space for education and training related to developing an entrepreneurial mind-set and related skills, along with the tools and support needed to launch new businesses. The new CIE includes the college’s nearly decade-old Fab Lab, now renovated and expanded to a 7,500-square-foot space housing a fully equipped wood shop and dedicated labs for plastics, 3D printing, lasers and metals, and more.
“With the funding for the CIE and the Fab Lab expansion we can make learning here much more experiential, not just academic,” said Jeffrey Boerner, director of the Fab Lab and a mentor to students like Gorski. “This place instills creative confidence by providing users with an opportunity to learn and experience, firsthand, the art and skills involved in making. It’s transformative for many who have never used the basic and high-end tools we provide.”
Trial, error, failure and fun are highly encouraged by the center’s faculty, staff and volunteers. It’s this safe environment of make, test, fail and improve, that Gorski says is invaluable to entrepreneurs like him.
“The Fab Lab gave me a place to stress test rough prototypes of my 3D printer and get feedback from respected and experienced engineers and business owners about what worked and what didn’t, and how to make it better – and now I have a beautiful product to market,” he said. “Through it all, I was given encouragement and gained the confidence to keep going. This place is all about helping businesses and entrepreneurs in the Lehigh Valley.”
And now he’s giving back to the place that’s given so much to him. Recently, Gorski began instructing 3D printing courses at the CIE’s Fab Lab and hopes to inspire future generations to give manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley a second look.
“Younger people, like me, can do more than just sit in front of a computer and code or crunch data,” Gorski said. “We can make, we can create. And now with access to dynamic facilities like the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship right here in our own backyard, I believe we can inspire more manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley, which would be great for our economy and community.”