What do you do when there’s a need for a custom product, service, or tool as a business owner?

You may search online for a vendor; maybe you flip through a directory, or you might sort through an old stack of business cards. But what if you could simply walk down the hallway of your manufacturing building and knock on a door? For entrepreneurs inside the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, this is often the scenario they find themselves in.

In the Allentown-based business incubator dedicated primarily to manufacturing startups, collaboration and resource-sharing among tenants is abundant. The incubation program, managed by AEDC, currently provides support to 11 manufacturing clients, along with 14 non-manufacturing businesses. Whether they are trading tools, subcontracting jobs, or assisting one another with design work, engineering, and problem-solving, Bridgeworks tenants are tapping into one another’s strengths to create a symbiotic environment.

Reciprocal Relationships

We talked with custom plastic fabricator Jim Heacock about the exchange of resources among in-house entrepreneurs. As the owner of JH Plastics, Heacock has seen dozens of collaborations during his decade of operations inside the facility. And running a shop naturally outfitted for problem-solving, he has often found himself in the position of providing custom solutions for other Bridgeworks tenants.

When the founders of TRuCapSol needed vessel lids, lab shelves, and plastic worktops to equip their microencapsulation laboratory, they walked approximately 60 feet down the hallway to Suite 119 and placed their order directly with Heacock.

Similarly, when the team at ColdEdge Technologies, a cryogenic testing lab, required prototype parts along with custom paneling for a client’s custom racks, they simply crossed the hallway to discuss their needs and put in their request with JH Plastics. And when LightLab International required lightbox materials and acrylic templates to conduct its signature photometric testing, they did the same. They knew the solution was to connect with their neighbor just a few doors down.

Although Heacock has completed custom jobs for almost every manufacturer in the Bridgeworks building, he also enlists fellow tenants to assist with jobs he can’t fulfill in his own shop. His relationship with Amorphic Tech, an engineering solution company, has grown from occasionally borrowing hardware to frequently subcontracting machinery jobs. Owner Matt Sommerfield of MTS Design + Manufacture has also become accustomed to working with Heacock regularly, offering product design and engineering expertise. The two entrepreneurs also find themselves teaming up when Heacock is in need of contracting for CAD drawings and CNC machining. When there are other specialized tools he requires, Heacock often reaches out to ColdEdge, another tenant that is also one of his own frequent customers. And the collaboration doesn’t just stop at the sharing or trading of tools, products, or services; it often extends to tenants sharing referrals, and in many cases, lending a helping hand.

“The Polymer Contours team has helped us numerous times moving heavy materials & parts, and AEDC’s facility team, Jim Fisher & Dave Heffner, help with moving materials and unloading trucks all the time,” Heacock said.

The Benefits

Human connection, saving time, and convenience; They’re the benefits that Bridgeworks tenant and wellness coach Victoria Cooper says she appreciates most about working in the same building as 24 other unique companies.

“In this day and age, virtual meetings are widespread and the preferred method of communication, but there’s nothing like that in-person human connection, which I prefer over anything. Having creative, experienced professionals in the same building allows me access to in-person meetings because of the time factor. Plus, if we have a free moment for a spontaneous meeting, we can make it happen,” Cooper explained.

Cooper is no stranger to collaboration. She runs her small business, The Consulting Firm, out of the Flex Office space, an area designated for tenants and co-working users who don’t require manufacturing space. Due to the proximity between offices, Cooper often bounces ideas off fellow visionaries. In the past, she has partnered with Joe Berrios of Banc7 for creative consulting services after developing a familiarity with his work. And when Cooper recently embarked on a new business venture, she recruited Stay Calm Industries owner, Evan Johnson, to design logo and branding concepts. Cooper feels lucky to access her neighbor’s professional expertise, noting that she finds their creative lenses refreshing.

Small Encounters, Big Gains

Having the opportunity to tap into others’ expertise is often born in a casual setting where business owners can discuss their struggles and share their successes. Win Schucker, Business Manager at ColdEdge Technologies, believes that events like the Lunch and Learn sessions and grand opening tours of the tenants’ manufacturing suites are how many connections formed. Those connections can then lead to reciprocal partnerships. One of which was the relationship that developed between ColdEdge and Andrew Schevets, owner of Amorphic Tech. After ColdEdge initially enlisted Schevets to conduct minor machine parts repairs for them, they were so impressed with his work that the two manufacturers soon began working together to complete much larger projects.

Though COVID-19 brought mingling between suites to a screeching halt this year, the partnerships cultivated among Bridgeworks incubation clients and tenants continue. The spontaneous conversations that naturally sprouted in common spaces and at in-house events were limited, but that has not stopped the sharing of resources, ideas, and services. When it comes to entrepreneurs honing their craft, nothing rings truer than that familiar phrase: Teamwork truly does make the dream work.

Lauren Matthews