team meeting

The Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship Project team meets to discuss "Strengthening the Lehigh Valley as a Hub for Entrepreneurs in Creative Industries."

Cultivating a Thriving Environment for Creative Entrepreneurship in the Lehigh Valley

Antigoni Papadimitriou, a teaching assistant professor in the College of Business, and the Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship propel creative entrepreneurship forward.

When talking about the Lehigh Valley economy, many people immediately recall the dominance of Bethlehem Steel Corp. over many decades. But it might surprise people to discover that after steelmaking operations ended locally more than two decades ago, creative industries have ascended to become one of the trending employment sectors in the region.

Expanding beyond the traditional spheres of arts, crafts and music, the creative industries also include fields such as media, IT, publishing, architecture, marketing and data science. It is widely recognized that the creative industries are sectors that intertwine the creation, production and commercialization of intangible cultural products.

"Creative professionals not only propel our businesses forward but also significantly enhance the quality of life in the Lehigh Valley, impacting the well-being of all residents," said Katelyn Mack, president and chief operating officer of the Lehigh Valley Inter-Regional Networking & Connecting Consortium (LINC). "Creative professionals are across every industry and sector in the Lehigh Valley. They serve as educators in our schools, fuel innovation in fundamental business sectors like lighting and construction, and use their writing to bring attention to pressing community issues."

Antigoni Papadimitriou, a teaching assistant professor in the College of Business and a South Side Bethlehem resident with years of research into supporting entrepreneurs in creative industries, recognizes the Lehigh Valley's potential as a hub for creative innovation. However, she also identifies gaps in the support system.

"The demand for professionals in creative industries is on the rise," she said. "However, after speaking with local entrepreneurs, it becomes clear that they all seek additional support, both in terms of policy and other resources."

To build a supportive framework for entrepreneurs in creative industries within the region, Papadimitriou initiated "Strengthening the Lehigh Valley as a Hub for Entrepreneurs in Creative Industries" as a Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship Project in 2023, supported by the Office of Creative Inquiry.

The team is currently comprised of seven students, including four who are continuing from the 2023 team: Tyson Utesch ’26, a product design major with a double minor in entrepreneurship and real estate; Haoyu Yang ’25, double major in supply chain management and business analytics; Gibby DiCenso ’24, a marketing major with minors in graphic design and philosophy; and Nicholas Scheri ’25, studying finance and business analytics. Joining them in 2024 are Joam Gonzalez Rodriguez ’27, majoring in finance and economics; Waldo Dang ’27, a mechanical engineering student; and Shriya Mehta ’27, studying biochemistry.

Creative professionals ... serve as educators in our schools, fuel innovation in fundamental business sectors like lighting and construction, and use their writing to bring attention to pressing community issues.

Katelyn Mack, president and chief operating officer of LINC

Utesch, a Lehigh Valley native, has witnessed the transformation of the region's economy from steel to a hub of creativity.

"Being local, I deeply appreciate how the creative industries in the Lehigh Valley have revitalized the area where I was raised,” he said. "It's a passion of mine to assist those who have spearheaded this revival, and it holds tremendous importance to me."

In the project's first year, the team commenced their efforts with literature reviews, policy analysis and interviews with local entrepreneurs. Papadimitriou mentioned that after receiving IRB approval, the team conducted interviews with more than 30 local entrepreneurs.

"Students performed exceptionally well in the first year," Papadimitriou said. "They established a strong foundation for future analysis and value creation within the creative industries."

This year, the team plans to build on its initial groundwork by continuing interviews and analyzing the data collected last year, with the goal of deepening its understanding and further supporting the growth of the creative industries.

Scheri said the project provided him with more learning opportunities than he initially anticipated.

“This project represents a convergence of my professional and personal interests,” he said. “It underscores the impact I can have as an undergraduate student while pursuing my studies. The preliminary analysis of the interviews, combined with a detailed background study through literature review, has endowed us with a wealth of knowledge and credibility as we progress in the publication process.”

He said he had never planned to engage in research during his undergraduate studies, but the team’s efforts have now gained the attention of academic communities of practice.

The team's paper, "Designing a Model to Study Ecosystem Development to Strengthen the Lehigh Valley as a Hub for Entrepreneurs in Creative Industries," was presented at the 26th Excellence in Services International Conference in August 2023.

Recently, the team's research has been recognized for its contributions to the field of entrepreneurial ecosystems, earning a place in the publication "Entrepreneurial Ecosystems: Growth, Sustainability, and Global Impact." In addition to its book contribution, the team’s findings have also been selected for presentation at both the Creative Industries Conference and the AMD Professional Development Workshop 2024 in June.

DiCenso said the project has profoundly expanded her research skills, curiosity and commitment to community and global betterment.

"Through this project, I've gained invaluable insights into conducting thorough research and the importance of attention to detail,” she said. “It has taught me the universal value of curiosity and questioning in academia and all aspects of life. Being part of a project driven by passion and purpose has profoundly shaped my understanding of community contribution and the impact of working towards global betterment."

Story by Haidan Hu

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