From paintball to beer, Bethlehem KIZ shares success stories

Thursday, November 29, 2018
Briana Gardell, founder and CEO of Mezzimatic LLC, started making her Goblies Throwable Paintball and Play Paint products based on an idea she had from a homework assignment for her technical entrepreneurship course at Lehigh University.
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Aside from funding, one of the resources entrepreneurs need to survive is a supportive environment where they can thrive.

 

In South Bethlehem, many have found that place with the success of the SouthSide Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ). Wednesday officials shared an update on some of the achievements the program has reached over the past year.

 

The Bethlehem KIZ is a financial incentive program that funds startups through grants and tax credits. The program, one of 29 throughout the state, began in 2004 and helped more than 100 companies.

 

The program helps companies get patents, develop new products, hire employees and interns, and invest in research and development.

 

In October, the International Economic Development Council awarded Bethlehem Economic Development Corp. and the city of Bethlehem a Gold Excellence in Economic Development Award for its KIZ.

 

SouthSide Bethlehem’s KIZ earned the award in the category of Partnership with Educational Institutions of the International Economic Development Council. The SouthSide KIZ won the award one other time in 2008.

 

Bethlehem’s SouthSide KIZ offers $15,000 grants that startup companies can apply for and are required to pay back into the program once they achieve certain revenue levels. Based on this initiative, the program will generate an additional $30,000 to $40,000 per year for the KIZ, with those funds invested into future startups.

 

All of its grant funding is from private sources. The program also receives annual funding – ranging $5,000 to $40,000 -- funding from primary partners, a group of community stakeholders that includes businesses, higher education institutions and nonprofits.

 

The KIZ also awards technology transfer grants of up to $15,000 to help companies in the commercialization of innovative technologies.

 

Other financial resources include student internship grants up to $2,500 for undergraduates and $3,750 for graduate-level students.

 

Companies also can use the Fab Lab resources and equipment at Northampton Community College and apply for up to $5,000 in Lehigh Technical Entrepreneurship Capstone program grants. The college officially opened its Follett Family Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the Fowler Family Southside Center in September.

 

Raja Bhattacharya and Jeff Boerner, directors of the center, said the center helps fuel entrepreneurship with young students using it for a variety of projects, including 3-D printing, woodworking and machining.

 

Asher Schiavone, economic development coordinator for the city of Bethlehem, also spoke about Bonn Place Brewing Co., which opened in South Bethlehem in 2016. The brewery recently bought a new facility, also in South Bethlehem, where it will increase its manufacturing capabilities. In 2017, Bonn Brewing was awarded $46,199 in KIZ tax credits.

 

Other entrepreneurs, who earned KIZ financing, spoke about their success:

 

  • Zeiad Hussein, co-founder of Rocket Cloud Inc., said his startup earned a $15,000 technology transfer grant to enhance their current offerings to wholesale companies. The company formed in 2017 and occupies space at TechVentures, an incubator at Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus. It works with companies to get their standalone systems to work with e-commerce platforms, particularly for industries such as plumbing, electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

 

  • Briana Gardell, founder and CEO of Mezzimatic LLC, started making her Goblies Throwable Paintball and Play Paint products based on an idea she had from a homework assignment for her technical entrepreneurship course at Lehigh University. In 2017, she showed her products at the New York Toy Fair, and attracted attention from Walmart and Michaels, two big chain retailers where she now sells her products. Gardell said the grants from the KIZ helped her business grow, which continues to remain in Bethlehem. The two technology transfer grants she received will also help her take advantage of up to $100,000 in KIZ tax credits annually. “Before I started the business, I don’t think I fully grasped the importance of being in an entrepreneurial ecosystem like Bethlehem,” Gardell said. “Now I wouldn’t want to build my business anywhere else.”