Bethlehem Entrepreneur Starts Company Making Throwable Paintballs
By Colin McEvoy on January 29, 2016
Briana Gardell had never even played paintball before – she wasn’t a fan of the welts and bruises. When asked about it, she’d say with a shrug: “It just hurts too much.”
So who would’ve thought she’d start made her own business making paintballs that can be thrown by hand?
The 23-year-old Lehigh University graduate is the CEO of Mezzimatic LLC, the company behind Goblies, marble-sized paintballs that can be thrown like water balloons, creating the same colorful splats as if they were fired from a paintball gun.
And the best part? No welts, no bruises, no pain.
“Bethlehem and all the resources and connections that exist here have been a tremendous help in actually starting the business,” she said. “I feel that if I wasn’t in Bethlehem I wouldn’t have had all the resources and be able to start a business the way I did.”
Goblies was inspired by a homework assignment in Gardell’s master’s-level Technical Entrepreneurship course at Lehigh. That master’s program, along with other Lehigh Valley resources like the Southside Bethlehem KIZ, Ben Franklin TechVentures, and the SoBeCoWorks co-working space, have helped her turn that novel product into her own company.
Utilizing the Lehigh Valley’s resources
She also plans to use a $15,000 technology transfer grant from the Southside Bethlehem KIZ to open a manufacturing facility in Bethlehem, so Goblies can be produced and sold as pre-made items rather than kits.
“I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was a freshman in high school, but I didn’t really realize when I picked Lehigh how much that was going to help me in my dream to become an entrepreneur,” she said. “Within that master’s program, it wasn’t just classes, it was connections and resources, (and) the program also highlighted why Bethlehem was a great place to start a business.”
Michael Lehman, technical entrepreneurship professor of practice at Lehigh University, said Gardell fully embraced the master’s program, learning the process of entrepreneurship and product development and applying those skills and knowledge.
“Throughout her journey, Briana faced every obstacle – inevitable when developing a new product and starting a company – with unbridled resilience,” Lehman said. “Briana has emerged as a role model for young entrepreneurs. Elementary school kids are not only familiar with Goblies, but they also know that Brianna is the inspirational inventor of the product.”
Discovering her product
The current Goblies kits that that include red, blue, and yellow dye, which customers can mix to create their own unique color. They are made not from paint, but from vegan food ingredients and cosmetic dyes, resulting in a colorful wet powder that is not sticky and can be easily cleaned.
The homework assignment that led to the product’s creation was a broad one, asking students to take any manufacturing technique and apply it to their own creative direction. Gardell applied the same techniques used to make balloons into an attempt to make an egg replica out of soap, which led her to discover the process to make Goblies.
“Twenty-six prototypes later, I finally got something working,” she said. “Making it into a commercial product, that’s another story that took many, many more prototypes. But I did finally get it to function.”
Gardell is not the only local entrepreneur to discover her product through Lehigh’s technical entrepreneurship master’s program. Lisa Glover, founder of Kitrex, also created her origami dinosaurs as the result of a homework assignment, ultimately leading her to form her own company, KitRex.
Giving back to the region
Gardell entered Goblies into the EUREKA! Ventures Competition in November 2014 at Lehigh University’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation. She won the grand prize, which led her to work out of the Ben Franklin TechVentures business incubator.
She also sought crowdfunding support through a successful Kickstarter campaign in July 2015, where she exceeded her $8,000 goal and raised $9,368 from 175 backers. Following her stay at Ben Franklin, Gardell moved into SoBeCoWorks, which provided her space to start building a manufacturing facility.
Gardell’s next step is preparing to show her product at the Toy Fair this month in New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. She is also planning her eventually manufacturing facility in Bethlehem, which she expects will create jobs and help the Lehigh Valley region that has already helped her so much.
“I’m really happy to be able to establish this facility here in Bethlehem, where I’ve been for six years, which will immediately create jobs and give something back to the local economy,” she said.
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