Briana Gardell, ‘14, ‘15G, demonstrates her product of throwable paintballs called Goblies at the Toy Fair, Feb. 13-16, 2016. Goblies are painless like a water balloon and colorful like a paintball. (Photo courtesy of Lehigh University Communications + Public Affairs)

Lehigh entrepreneurship prepared alums for toy industry


Four Lehigh alumni are continuing work in the area of toy making that they started as graduates in the Technical Entrepreneurship program. The four were able to attend the 2016 International Toy Fair, held in New York from Feb. 13 to 16, where more than 30,000 registered industry professionals gathered and networked.

Briana Gardell, ’14, ‘15G, the creator of Goblies, said the toy fair is “kind of like speed-dating with professionals.”

Small retailers make decisions on the spot if they want to buy a developer’s product. Gardell and Lisa Glover, ‘13, ‘14G and founder of Architrep LLC, both had booths at this year’s toy fair.

Gardell said many manufacturing representatives and salespeople are interested in selling developer’s products to stores who have representatives that are present at the toy fair. There are also workshops and panels from all over the industry, including ones that promote safety regulations and licensing.

Lisa Getzler, executive director of the Baker Institute, said the alumni were all EUREKA! competition winners at Lehigh and received prize money. Gardell said the EUREKA! competition not only helped with funding, but also connected her with her mentor, Lehigh alumna Alita Friedman, ’87. Lisa Getzler said Friedman mentored all four Lehigh alumni who attended the toy fair.

“(Friedman) was helpful in meeting new people, expanding our network and learning who the important players are in the industry,” Lauren Villaverde, ‘14, ‘15G, said.

The Baker Institute can offer a start for students in the industry.

“Our goal in the Baker Institute is for students to have their own products and take that to the next level, whatever that is,” Getzler said.

This can include manufacturing, creating prototypes in the labs or launching a company.

Gardell has been successful in her company, Mezzimatic LLC. She said she received a lot of publicity during the Toy Fair, which included CNBC calling Goblies one of the hottest toys at the fair.

Villaverde is in earlier stages compared to Gardell. Nevertheless, she is still having successes in her company, STEMpowered, and in impacting the Lehigh community.

Villaverde recently gave a TEDx talk in Allentown where she primarily discussed the research behind her company — the importance of developing spatial skills. Villaverde said her product, Stackablz, are 3-D puzzles intended to help young children to develop skills, which is integral in predicting STEM achievement later in life. Her product is directed toward kids at least 3 years old, but she hopes to create more products for more ages.

The alumni said the resources at Lehigh helped them in the initial stages of their work. Gardell said her idea for Goblies came about during a homework assignment where she tried to replicate an egg with soap. When she tried to replicate the yolk, her idea of throwable paintballs sparked.

Similar to Gardell’s experience, Glover sells kits of fold-and-play dinosaurs called KitRex. Her idea also started as a homework assignment where she made miniature versions of a cardboard Halloween costume she created.

Lehigh students who are part of the entrepreneurship program are not the only ones allowed to use the resources accessible at Lehigh. Glover said all current students are welcome to implement their own ideas by using the resources available at the Wilbur Powerhouse.

“Entrepreneurial thinking is for everyone,” Getzler said. “It doesn’t mean you have to start a company.”

Because of the resources and courses available at Lehigh, the alumni, including Gardell, said they couldn’t imagine not going to college.

“I believe college is way more than just getting a degree,” Gardell said. “You develop as a person, are getting priorities straight, making your own decisions.”

Glover echoed her sentiments.

“Before doing the entrepreneurship program, I did not know anything in the business,” Glover said. “I credit most of my success to that program. Even if I had a great idea, I wouldn’t be able to know what to do with it.”

Gardell said taking courses or participating in clubs that can help students learn different kinds of skills is important. She said learning design skills, video editing, coding and 3-D printing can all be beneficial for creating a successful company.

Each of the alumni plan to continue developing their products.

Gardell’s plans for Goblies are to create a shooter for them and create premade Goblies. Glover wants to start a triceratops version of her kit. As for Villaverde, she wants to start a Kickstarter for Stackablz once she knows all the budget details.

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