Entrepreneurs gather to have coffee and network on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, at Northampton Community College's Fowler South Side Center. The Lehigh Valley chapter of the nationwide organization 1 Million Cups meets every Wednesday to bring together entrepreneurs and discuss ways to improve their business strategies and endeavors. (Delaney McCaffrey/B&W Staff)

1 Million Cups brings together entrepreneurs in the Lehigh Valley

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Every Wednesday, entrepreneurs from around the Lehigh Valley gather at Northampton Community College’s Fowler South Side Center to discuss their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Bringing a caffeinated twist to networking, 1 Million Cups is designed to bring entrepreneurs together at free weekly meetings hosted at 180 different locations around the U.S.

The program was developed by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 2012, but was recently introduced to Bethlehem in January by Raja Bhattacharya, the director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Northampton Community College.

Bhattacharya first heard about the event during his previous position at Columbia College in Missouri, where the Kauffman Foundation headquarters is located. He said he believed opening a Lehigh Valley chapter of 1 Million Cups would be useful for the entrepreneurs in the region.

Each week, there are two presenters from recent startups or businesses that are less than five years old. Bhattacharya said each presenter gives a short talk about a topic related to his or her business, followed by time for the audience to ask questions.

As part of a small organizing committee, Bhattacharya helped partner with 1 Million Cups as well as Northampton Community College to begin hosting the events.

During the meeting on April 3, Bill Hartin, founder and CEO of nonprofit filmmaking consortium Fade In/Fade Out, spoke first. He stressed the importance of using storytelling to grow your business.

“How you tell your story can make or break and make a big difference in how you are perceived,” Hartin said.

Hartin said the importance of storytelling carries far beyond traditional forms such as filmmaking and should be actively used to help grow businesses of all kinds.

As a tradition of 1 Million Cups, each presenter is asked the final question, “What can we as a community do for you?”

“I’d like you to start thinking about filmmaking here in the Lehigh Valley as a business entity,” Hartin said.

He said he hopes that more people and businesses can collaborate with filmmakers if the community starts to think in this way.

Brett Smith, associate director of the Small Business Development Center, also presented during the April 3 meeting. His talk focused around the value of exports and the expansion of businesses internationally.

During the break between speakers, anyone in attendance had the chance to promote his or her own events. Gary Schall took the opportunity to tell the group about a networking event he’s hosting in a couple of weeks.

Schall is a regular at 1 Million Cups. He said he tries his best to attend every meeting, and he has presented in the past.

“It’s extremely helpful from a presenting and attending perspective,” Schall said.

He said he gains a lot of knowledge hearing what others are going through and sharing ideas with the group.

Bruce Kromka, an architecture student in his final semester at Northampton Community College, said he enjoyed hearing everyone’s different ideas at the event.

“You can learn so much from a business you didn’t see yourself learning anything from,” Kromka said.

Smith said there are many ways that the Small Business Development Center works with Lehigh to provide opportunities for students. The center helps to bring in businesses to speak during classes, as well as providing work-study positions.

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