Product Inventor: Briana Gardell

  • CEO and Founder, Mezzimatic, LLC
  • M.Eng., Technical Entrepreneurship Program, Lehigh University, 2015
  • B.S., Business Information Systems, Lehigh University, 2014
The TE program provides so many opportunities - opportunities to learn new skills, to get constructive feedback, to use resources like 3D printers, to fail and start again, and in my case, to create a new product - all while getting a master's degree!
-Brianna Gardell

Conceived during Briana's year as a grad student in Lehigh's Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) program, Goblies are non-toxic, bio-degradable, hand-thrown paintballs - basically colorful wet powder encased by a non-latex membrane.

Why did you decide to enroll in Lehigh's Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) master's program?

Several of my family members started businesses, and my own interest in doing so began to crystallize when I took a high school course on entrepreneurship. During my undergraduate years at Lehigh, I majored in Business Information Systems and, in addition, earned a minor in Entrepreneurship. The TE program seemed like an obvious next step.

What was the best part of the TE program?

That's a tough question. I'd have to say that it was having the time to work on developing my product. Or perhaps it was having access to professors and other professionals for mentoring and guidance. Or maybe it was all the skills I Arduino prototyping, 3D printing, and video editing, just to mention a few. As I said, that's a tough question!

The TE program provides so many opportunities - opportunities to learn new skills, to get constructive feedback, to use resources like 3D printers, to fail and start again, and in my case, to create a new product - all while getting a master's degree!

You established your company, Mezzimatic LLC, the day after receiving your TE degree. Tell us about your product.

Goblies are small paintballs that you throw like water balloons - but without the residue - to create the kind of colorful splats produced by a paintball gun - but without the sting. The idea is to pitch them at others during messy play. There's something about getting messy that makes you feel alive. It sticks out in your memory. I want to help people create memories with my products.

Goblies are currently sold in DIY kits containing materials to make 100 brightly-colored blobs, as well as information for children about the science behind the process. Available on the Goblies website, on various other online retail sites, and at Allentown's Da Vinci Science Center, the kits have already been purchased in 33 states, St. Thomas, and Canada.

How did you come up with this idea?

It grew out of a TE assignment called "Making It." The task involved taking a manufacturing technique and applying our own creative direction. I originally tried to make an egg out of soap. That initial idea gradually morphed into the vision for Goblies.

How have you financed your startup?

Well, I had a jumpstart of sorts. In November 2014, less than halfway through the TE program, I won $5,000 in the Eureka Venture Competition Series. Sponsored by Lehigh's Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship. Creativity and Innovation, the competition was amazing. And I was awarded the grand prize! I should add that, in addition to providing a startup nest egg, this experience offered the chance to pitch my business to successful entrepreneurs, validated my product idea, generated valuable business connections, and set me up with designated work space in the Ben Franklin TechVentures incubator at Lehigh's Mountaintop Campus.

Then, shortly after establishing Mezzimatic, I launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised almost $10,000 from 175 backers and eventually positioned me to use bootstrapping as a means of moving the startup forward.

The company took another big leap forward in January 2016 when I was awarded a $15,000 technology transfer grant by the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ). This funding will be used to open a manufacturing facility - which should in turn create jobs - when the time is right.

What are your daily responsibilities?

Right now, I do everything from prototyping to product photography to kit assembly to sales. Company growth is a priority. Operating out of SoBeCoWorks, a collaborative work space in Bethlehem, I try to keep all the balls - and all the Goblies - in the air.

How did TE program prepare you for what you're doing now?

My life as an entrepreneur is very similar to my life in TE. I have a lot of different assignments to complete and things to master in order to keep advancing the process. There isn't one thing I'm doing right now that couldn't be a TE assignment.

You hit it big with your appearance at the spring toy fair in New York City. Talk about that.

It was unbelievable! I showcased Goblies at the mammoth four-day 2016 Toy Industry Association international toy fair at the Javits Center in New York City. My product generated major buzz and received high-level media coverage. In a recap of the event posted online by CNBC, Goblies was highlighted along with ten other products – some made by such industry giants such as Hasbro and Lego – as one of the "hottest toys from the New York Toy Fair." Many brick-and-mortar retail stores ordered during the show, and international distributors from three continents expressed interest, presenting seemingly endless follow-up opportunities for me.

What are you thinking about the future?

I’ve submitted a provisional application for a patent and continue to work my product. I want to make Goblies a household name and a childhood staple. At the moment, I’m developing a new iteration: pre-made, ready-to-throw Goblies! I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out the manufacturing process, and I’m now focused on packaging and distribution.

Down the road, there will likely be prototypes for new products as well. I want to continue to be an entrepreneur and experience every stage of company growth. There are so many things I want to do: hire my first employee, set up a manufacturing facility, sell to a large retailer, and ship internationally. It’s important to me to keep taking on new challenges.

How would you sum up the value of your TE degree?

I use my education every day. The TE program gave me the skills, connections, support system, and time to develop a business. As a result, even if my company went away tomorrow, I’d still be well positioned for the next great opportunity. Anyone considering TE should know that if you put the work in, your ROI could be at 100% before you even graduate.