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New entrepreneurs network at Rauch

A local business owner connects with visitors at the second annual Lehigh Valley Microenterprise Expo held recently at the Rauch Business Center.

The aroma of fresh-brewed coffee was too much for visitors to resist at the second annual Lehigh Valley Microenterprise Expo, and it was a great tool for Brigit Gray to promote her business.

“I love introducing people to our coffee,” said Gray, master grinder and the owner of the Grindhouse Coffee Roasting Co. “And this is the perfect place to do it.”

Gray joined more than 50 small business owners at the Rauch Business Center on March 24 for the Expo, which brought customers, purchasing agents and regional business owners together to promote a broad array of products and services.

“The Expo is a great way for the community to come together and support one another,” said Puja Parekh ’10, president of Lehigh’s Microfinance Club. The Microenterprise Expo is the brainchild of club members, who saw value in building community support for budding businesses.

Gesturing to the swarms of people crowding Rauch, Parekh said, “It’s a great way for businesses to gain exposure. This event is an effort to promote networking opportunities among businesses, purchasing agents and community residents, and Lehigh students, faculty and staff.”

A rich tapestry of entrepreneurial endeavors

The event showcased the richness of Lehigh Valley entrepreneurship—from construction and tech companies to businesses producing homemade salsa or roasting coffee. Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, business owners exchanged business cards with each other and with hundreds of visitors strolling through a maze of kiosks and booths.

Brigit Gray spoke candidly about the challenges faced by new business owners.

“We’re a fairly new business, with a new location. Exposure is key for us, and we rely heavily on the patronage of our neighbors in the community and at Lehigh. It helps us when professors come to our shop and bring their students and when students come and bring their friends. So, that’s why we’re here—to talk about who we are, get our name out there, and watch the smiles on people’s faces when they drink our coffee.”

The Expo was organized by Lehigh’s Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise and the Community Action Development Corp. of Bethlehem. The corporation’s director, Ellen Larmer, said business-to-business networking allows larger, established companies to help their smaller, younger counterparts.

“We need to raise awareness about how important it is to support small business,” said Larmer. “Microenterprises are innovative and are real assets to the fabric of our community and its economy. To survive, they need people to frequent them. They need our support. Today, at Lehigh, we are doing just that.”

Story by Freddie Marianacci

Posted on Monday, March 29, 2010

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