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Enterprising alums work Lehigh connections

Matthew Harmer ’07 (left) is the founder of a video-centric creative agency. His brother, Ben ’11, has created a musical app for action sport enthusiasts.

Matthew Harmer ’07 and his brother, Ben ’11, were just a few years out of kindergarten when they saw there was profit to be had, big profit, in trading Beanie Babies.

It was the mid-1990s, and the stuffed animals—Legs the Frog, Patti the Platypus, Pinchers the Lobster and hundreds more—had become a craze.

“We bought as many as we could and resold them on the internet,” says Matt, who has a B.A. in English and a minor in engineering.

“We would import Brittania, a beanie baby from England, for $5 and sell it in two days for $300 in the U.S.

“I was 11 and Ben was 8. We earned enough money in a few months that a few years later we were each able to buy cars and have spending money left for college.”

Today the two brothers have carved out careers as up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Matt is the founder and CEO of 59 Second Pitch, an award-winning video-centric creative agency he took full-time last spring. Ben and two colleagues have launched Beat Farm USA and created an app that provides original musical accompaniment to skiers, snowboarders and other action sport enthusiasts.

The Happy Meal profit margin

After their early success with Beanie Babies, the Harmer brothers diversified. In middle school, they headed to a local golf course to sell soda and “experienced” golf balls. They hung out at the neighborhood McDonald’s, consuming Happy Meals—and collecting and reselling as many 101 Dalmations figures as they could.

When Matt enrolled at Lehigh in 2003, he started Tuition Landscapers, going door to door and obtaining referrals through friends and family. The business thrived. Matt purchased a commercial lawn mower for Ben, who followed him to Lehigh in 2007 (earning a B.S. in design) and started up Varsity Mowing, which he ran through college.

Their endeavors were in large part the reason both brothers won Lehigh’s Leonard Pool Memorial Prize, which is given to rising juniors and seniors who exhibit entrepreneurial talents.

After Lehigh, Matt enrolled in law school at Rutgers. He developed a Facebook Application business venture, and one of his apps grew to a few hundred thousand users, but Facebook’s changing platform hindered scalable monetization, teaching Matt that no matter how great an idea is, the market has to be receptive.

After law school, Matt went to work in New York City, by day as an intellectual property attorney and strategy consultant and by night as the founder of 59 Second Pitch. The agency filmed a fun video for a client at Lehigh and Bethlehem locations last fall.

As 59 Second Pitch rapidly scales, Matt has recruited new talent from Lehigh. Roger D. Graham III ’16, an integrated business and Engineering (IBE) major, Maxwell S. Smith ’15 (computer science), Georges Petitpas ’15 (computer engineering), and Dan Thareja (B.S. IBE ’13, M.S, technical entrepreneurship ’14) are working on a software project. Kylie Gray ’14, an English major, is a creative strategist and copywriter.

Matt is also guest-lecturing in a Lehigh filmmaking class and developing a video-centric entrepreneurship course he plans to propose to the university.

A spicy musical app

Ben, an award-winning drummer at age 10 and a ranked ping pong player by 12, launched a branding effort at Lehigh to help a company spawned by the university’s Integrated Product Development (IPD) program.

After he graduated from Lehigh, Ben earned a master’s degree in IPD at the University of Pennsylvania, where he and two other Penn students hatched Beat Farm USA. Combining their strengths in business, design and engineering, and their shared passion for music and sports, they have launched the “Jalapeño,” an original beat generating application that integrates with skis, snowboards, skateboards, BMX bikes and other action sport devices.

Jalapeño, a downloadable app, responds to jumps, turns and spins, creating music tracks as one speeds down a slope or street. Ben and his teammates have also started a small consulting team, which offers seminars and project analytics for companies to make products and initiatives go viral.

Their Lehigh years, say the Harmer brothers, bolstered their entrepreneurial zeal.

“Lehigh is a practical, hands-on place,” says Ben. “Matthew and I are grateful for that kind of education, as well as for the alumni network Lehigh has provided, which has helped grow both of our businesses.”

“So many of our clients derived from some Lehigh connection, it’s crazy,” says Matt. “With an English major interning for us and three computer engineers working on a project, needless to say, I believe in the talent pool here.”

Story by William Johnson

Posted on Monday, June 23, 2014

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