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Southside Bethlehem KIZ Highlights Ongoing Tradition of Innovation

By Colin McEvoy on November 30, 2018

More than 100 people attended the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) annual update on Nov. 28 at Lehigh University’s Iacocca Hall in Bethlehem.

More than 100 people attended the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) annual update on Nov. 28 at Lehigh University’s Iacocca Hall in Bethlehem.

The city of Bethlehem has long been known as a leader in the field of innovation and entrepreneurship, from the Moravians’ establishment of the first municipal water system in the 1800s, to Joel Spira’s invention of the electronic dimmer switch here in the 20th century.

That tradition of innovation is continuing today, and was on full display at the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) annual update, which was held on Nov. 28 at Lehigh University’s Iacocca Hall in Bethlehem.

More than 100 people attended the event, which highlighted the accomplishments of the KIZ, a designated area within Southside Bethlehem that fosters entrepreneurial growth in coordination with higher education institutions like Lehigh and Northampton Community College.

The KIZ offers critical financial resources and assistance to early-stage startup companies, and seeks to provide an incentive for graduating students with an idea for a startup company to locate in the city, rather than leaving the state for Silicon Valley or another technology hub.

Since its inception in 2004, the Southside Bethlehem KIZ has led to the creation of 449 jobs, $70 million in total leveraged funding, 258 patents filmed, and the creation of 146 new products, according to Asher Schiavone, Bethlehem economic development coordinator.

For every $1 invested by the KIZ, there was $9.04 in additional funding leveraged, $8.76 in increased revenue, and $5.79 in research and development expenditures, Schiavone said. The KIZ this year also won an Excellence in Economic Development Gold Medal from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC).

The annual update event highlighted a few of the startup companies that have thrived with assistance from the KIZ, including Rocket Cloud, a third-party data enablement solution, and Mezzimatic, manufacturer of the Goblies throwable paintballs toys.

Since forming in 2017, Rocket Cloud co-founder Chief Revenue Officer Zeiad Hussein has been working with companies to allow their standalone systems to interact with e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart, and Jet.com.

Briana Gardell, founder and CEO of Mezzimatic, the company behind the Goblies throwable paintballs, spoke at the KIZ event.

Briana Gardell, founder and CEO of Mezzimatic, the company behind the Goblies throwable paintballs, spoke at the KIZ event.

The company received a $15,000 technology transfer grant from the KIZ to enhance its current offerings to wholesale companies. Hussein said the funding has allowed Rocket Cloud to deliver a turn-key solution for it suppliers.

“All of us at Rocket Cloud are very proud to be a part of this community and we will continue to drive value for many years to come,” Hussein said.

Goblies paintballs, which previously generated considerable attention at the New York Toy Fair , are now available in Michaels and Walmart stores across the country and online. The company received two technology transfer grants and will be able to take advantage of up to $100,000 in KIZ tax credits annually.

Mezzimatic founder and CEO Briana Gardell said she has received a great deal of help from the Lehigh Valley entrepreneurial ecosystem. She began the company based on an idea generated from a homework assignment for her technical entrepreneurial course at Lehigh University.

“I like to say I only made two smart business decisions,” Gardell said. “THe first was starting, and the second was to keep going, and that’s to the credit of a lot of people in this room.”

A company is eligible for financial resources through the KIZ is they are located within the geographical boundaries of the zone, have been operational for less than eight years, and operate within state-approved industry clusters such as information technology, financial services, advanced materials, nanotechnology, opto/micro electronics, life sciences, and energy.

Financial resources provided by the KIZ provides include technology transfer grants up to $15,000 per project, student internship grants of up to $3,750 per intern, and KIZ tax credits up to $100,000 annually, and Technical Entrepreneurship Capstone Program Grants up to $5,000.

The Northampton Community College Fab Lab and the college’s new Follett Family Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which opened in downtown Bethlehem in September, were also highlighted at the KIZ annual update.

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