A colorful, squishy, water balloon and paintball hybrid created by a Lehigh University graduate has been picked up by Michaels, the largest chain of art and craft stores in the country.
Briana Gardell, CEO and founder of Mezzimatic LLC in Bethlehem, invented Goblies Throwable Paintballs as a graduate student in Lehigh University’s Technical Entrepreneurship program.
Mezzimatic’s Play Paint, colorful, washable goo designed to be used in water guns, also is part of the deal with Michaels.
Mezzimatic has had an exclusive deal with Michaels since March 9 to sell the two products at all of its stores in the United States and Canada and on Michaels’ website.
When the deal expires July 4, other retailers will be able to sell Goblies and Play Paint, in addition to Michaels, Gardell said.
“We have stores line up that have purchased them after July 4,” said Gardell, who declined to reveal the stores.
Gardell’s products caught the attention of Michaels last year at the New York Toy Fair.
“Before this deal happened I was just selling to independent toy stores. I’d go to trade shows and exhibit and people would buy from different stores across the country,” she said.
“This is the first year they’re available nationwide in lots of different locations,” Gardell said.
“I’m really happy the product is out on the market in a big way and that people are actually using it,” she said.
“It’s still crazy to me. I’ll see a picture pop up on Twitter or Instagram. People are playing with them. That’s been fun to watch,” she said.
The products come in at least seven colors, including pink and blue, which have been popular at gender reveal and birthday parties.
“It’s one thing to sell to a retailer, it’s another to have the end consumer be happy with the product and be writing good reviews,” she said.
Gardell helped fund the development of Goblies through a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 and continued to make them in her apartment kitchen.
She eventually moved into a co-working space at SoBeCoWorks to take advantage of opportunities for early stage startups that are in the Keystone Opportunity Zone in Southside Bethlehem.
The KIZ, one of 29 in Pennsylvania, was established in 2004 to foster innovation and create entrepreneurial opportunities, such as financing and tax credits, for early stage startups.
Gardell has received two technology transfer grants totaling $30,000 and will be able to take advantage of up to $100,000 in KIZ tax credits annually.
In 2017, the KIZ in Bethlehem invested more than $500,000 in companies. Since its inception, the KIZ has invested more than $7 million in 90 companies.
“There is no doubt that Goblies is one of the biggest economic development stories of the year,” said Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez.
“As a former educator, it’s encouraging to see what essentially started out as a class project evolve into a real world application.”
Goblies and Play Paint have patents pending.