Childhood entrepreneurship turns to startup success

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At the ages of 11 and 8, respectively, brothers Matthew and Benjamin Harmer already were honing their thirst for entrepreneurship.

The two spent most of their childhood days coming up with any way they could to sell anything and everything. They would find lost golf balls, bleach them and sell them to golfers at a nearby course. And they stapled together loose paper to sell as booklets to family members.

Today, at 29 and 25, Matthew and Benjamin Harmer, both Lehigh University and Parkland High School graduates, have continued their entrepreneurial journey, each starting their own thriving companies.

“To be honest, as kids we didn’t even know how much money we were making,” Matthew Harmer said. “We didn’t do it to get rich, but it was the exhilaration of seeing our hypothesis pay off.”

Once the Internet hit the Harmer household in the mid-1990s, the brothers took their selling skills to the Web, buying Ty Beanie Babies stuffed animals and reselling them through a message board on the company’s website.

“That’s when I knew I had the itch to do my own thing,” Matthew Harmer said. “It’s a rush you can’t replicate [as an employee] at a company; it’s just so rewarding.”

Even though Matthew and Benjamin Harmer are involved in separate ventures as adults, the childhood bond still remains.

“I think Matt and I have the same mindset and can be honest with each other if an idea will or will not work,” Benjamin Harmer said. “We are definitely supportive of each other; starting a business can be a lonely world if you don’t have anyone supporting you.”

In 2012, while working long hours at a consulting firm in New York City by day, Matthew Harmer by night was putting the pieces together to launch a business.

“I wanted to combine what I love doing into a business that has a market for it, with revenue generating early on,” said Harmer, who in December 2012 started 59 Second Pitch, a creative agency focused on using the power of short-film video and digital media to create advertising campaigns.

After graduating from Lehigh in 2007 with a degree in English and engineering, he earned a law degree at Rutgers University School of Law. He endured a short career as an attorney, including as a contract lawyer for Google in New York and then moved on to consulting firms, helping companies with their growth strategies.

“I saw a gap where other creative agencies were not really helping the client turn their marketing campaigns into more users, more revenue, with ways to track it,” Harmer said. “I wanted to create a return-on-investment-driven media company.”

59 Second Pitch, in the technology startup hub of the Partnership for Innovation in Bethlehem, was already profitable in its first month of operation, he said.

Since then, Harmer has added 59 Sounds to the business, a division of the company that consists of musicians who make original track music for clients, out of a studio in Bethlehem.

In the pipeline for 59 Second Pitch is a rebranding campaign, changing the name to 59 Second Media to focus more on already established companies that want to grow their business.

Harmer, a guest lecturer in a Lehigh graduate filmmaking class, has taken on two Lehigh students to work at his company. Harmer also developed a curriculum for a 59 Second Pitch class at Lehigh, which he hopes the college will start, with him and his team as instructors.

“I’m particularly pleased that each of the scholarship recommendations I had written for him [Matthew] over his undergraduate and law school years, including a description of Matt’s entrepreneurial efforts, turned out to be successful,” said Kenneth Sinclair, a professor at Lehigh.

Benjamin Harmer, who in April 2013 started Beat Farm LLC, a music-driven product development company that merges music and action sports, graduated in 2011 from Lehigh with degrees in product design and entrepreneurship. He then earned a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania for integrated product design, landing at Micro-Clean Inc. in Bethlehem as a marketing consultant.

While at his full-time job, Harmer kept in close contact with his fellow product design classmates from Penn, John Hunchar and Kenneth Liew. In 2012, the trio invented and obtained a temporary patent for the concept of taking human body motions during action sports and integrating them into original music compositions.

“It’s definitely a roller coaster ride, and we have encountered all kinds of challenges,” Harmer said. “But, I feel like we are progressing forward.”

Sparked by the concept, the trio created an app that remixes music in real time, based on the tricks, turns and spins while doing action sports, including snowboarding, skiing and skateboarding.

“I think it’s just been an incredible learning experience,” said Hunchar, of West Chester. “We have grown stronger together and got to know how we all work and what our skills are.”

Harmer said he hopes the app, which will be downloadable for free on Android and iOS phones, will be released by the end of the summer.

Today, the three are showcasing the app in Boston, Massachusetts at the four-month-long MassChallenge, the largest international startup accelerator and competition. The event is expected to be pivotal in helping the company to launch its first app, now in beta testing.

Beat Farm was selected as one of the 120 finalists from more than 1,600 startups that entered from across the globe. Harmer and his business partners work daily with mentors and network with other entrepreneurs.

Harmer is hoping that when he returns to the Lehigh Valley from Boston, he can get involved with the students at Lehigh, as his brother is doing.

“Back when he [Benjamin] was my student, he was generally a quiet and unassuming young man,” said Wesley Heiss, an assistant professor at Lehigh who taught Harmer in a product design class. “However, he carried pockets of ambition and bravado that surfaced when least expected.”

Once Beat Farm’s app is released, the company will look into creating a similar app that will create music while someone is training and working out, Harmer said.

Jennifer Glose

Jennifer Glose

Reporter Jennifer Glose covers health care, Berks County and other topics. She can be reached at jenniferg@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 111. Follow her on Twitter @jenniferg_LVB and read her blog, “Networking,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/networking-blog.

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