‘From the kitchen to the factory’: Bethlehem start-up company's Goblies expand sales to Target
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — With spring now upon us, it’s a better time than ever to get outside and get active.
And oftentimes that can come with making a mess.
That's where a new product from a Bethlehem-based startup company comes in.
Mezzimatic LLC recently got approval from the Target Corporation to sell its Goblies Throwable Paintballs and Play Paint in Target stores nationwide and online, according to a release from the Bethlehem Economic Development Corporation and its Keystone Innovation Zone.
Mezzimatic Chief Executive Officer Briana Gardell said it's a timely deal secured with a Top 10 nationwide retailer.
“It is so exciting to have Goblies products in Target,” Gardell said. “We’re in stores just in time for Easter, so hopefully we’ll be another Bethlehem-based product that will be in Easter baskets — just like the iconic Peeps.”
'Make messy memories'
Goblies Throwable Paintballs are marketed to be colorful, like normal paintballs, but without the pain. The product is designed to be thrown like a water balloon.
The outside of the ball is made from a seaweed extract and doesn’t contain plastic or latex, while the inside is filled with a “paint-like colorful goo” that’s easy to wash off and doesn’t stain clothing.
The company is working to come up with a solution to preserve Goblies so they can be used to make artwork, according to the company's website.
Play Paint is designed to be used in most water guns and blasters, and also can easily be washed away.
For now, Target will offer pink, blue and green versions of Goblies, while also offering pink and blue versions of the Play Paint. More colors of both are on the way, Gardell said.
A long time coming
Gardell said she has wanted to be an entrepreneur since she was at least 14 years old, and said she began writing various business plans in high school.
“I was inspired by a homework assignment in the manufacturing part of the program. I was trying to replicate an egg out of a soap product, and the yolk reminded me of a paintball — and it kind of went from there.”Briana Gardell, creator of Goblies
She said that after she developed plans for an Italian restaurant, a bakery and more, that interest continued into her secondary education. She eventually attended Lehigh University, were she got a master’s degree in technical entrepreneurship in 2015.
Gardell explained that Lehigh's program uses projects to inspire ideas that can lead to new businesses. That's where Goblies got its start.
“I was inspired by a homework assignment in the manufacturing part of the program,” Gardell said. “I was trying to replicate an egg out of a soap product, and the yolk reminded me of a paintball — and it kind of went from there.”
Gardell said she began the process that led to the Goblies product that’s available on shelves around the country.
Along the way, she said, she worked in her apartment kitchen as well as some shared office space in Bethlehem.
“It took 26 prototypes to get something to actually function as a paintball,” she said. “That was just the very beginning of it.
“We made so many iterations on it to get it to where it needs to be at a commercial level. But I really wasn’t sure how to make a premade paintball at the time, that you can just pop open the container and start throwing.”
As a result, Gardell initially sold Goblies as a do-it-yourself science kit, providing tiny bags of ingredients and molds in each box.
That also gave her an idea of the market interest involved with such a product, which ultimately led to some changes in her focus.
“I would end up staying up all night making them for birthday parties and events, so I was like, ‘I’ve really got to figure out a way to make these premade so that people can have thousands of them at a time if they want.'"Briana Gardell, creator of Goblies
“I would end up staying up all night making them for birthday parties and events, so I was like, ‘I’ve really got to figure out a way to make these premade so that people can have thousands of them at a time if they want,’” Gardell said.
She said she applied for a Keystone Innovation Zone grant, and got $15,000 to make a “mini factory” for the premade Goblies.
She said she took masses of her product to the 2017 Toy Fair trade show in New York City, and found there was interest from stores of all sizes.
Goblies went on to hit the shelves of Michaels in 2018, she said.
“Now we mass-manufacture them, which is absolutely necessary because we’ve sold millions of units,” Gardell added. “That’s how it went from the kitchen to the factory.”
Now, you can find Mezzimatic LLC on the South Side of Bethlehem, at Pi: Partnership for Innovation.
Local support, resources
Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds said he was proud to see Gardell’s success, as the city’s Keystone Innovative Zone program has supported her process along the way.
“This is exciting news for Briana, Target and Bethlehem,” Reynolds said. “We still remember when Briana was working on the product while enrolled at Lehigh.
“We invested funding and resources through our KIZ program soon after she created her startup company because it was apparent that she has the personality and determination needed to grow a business.
"We couldn’t be happier to see Goblies in Target stores nationwide.”
Asher Schiavone — Bethlehem's economic development coordinator — agreed that Gardell and her company were a great fit, considering the KIZ grant requirements.
“She has the personality and the mindset to not only successfully create a product, but to create a company."Asher Schiavone, economic development coordinator for the city of Bethlehem
“When you meet Briana, you understand why she’s successful,” Schiavone wrote in an email. “She has the personality and the mindset to not only successfully create a product, but to create a company.
“That distinction is an important one, as we have seen many ‘product-oriented’ entrepreneurs fail in the past because they are too focused on designing a product and lose focus on growing a company.”
Applicants are chosen based on their locations within the geographical boundaries of the KIZ. The company also has to have been operational for less than eight years.
Those considered must fall within state-approved industry clusters set forth by the Southside Bethlehem KIZ, with preference being given to those involved in information technology, financial services, advanced materials, nanotechnology, opto/micro electronics, life sciences and energy.
A working prototype and a path toward commercialization are required as well, Schiavone said.