Finalist Feature – Bonnidette Lantz with Lightenstein

It’s not just the money with the BALSA Foundation, it is also the people you get to meet.
— Bonnidette Lantz, Lightenstein

“Since the BALSA Foundation it has been unreal.” Nine days into a month long market in Belleville, IL, “I have already sold out twice.”

Meet Bonnidette Lantz, the founder and owner of Lightenstein and a 2016 Summer BALSA Grant finalist. Lightenstein sells handmade lamps that are works of art. Popular ones include a book sprouting a light and an old-fashioned camera holding a bulb in place of the lens. In Bonnidette’s eyes, almost anything can become a lamp.

Bonnidette made her first lamp out of flea market finds when she was 12. More recently, the creation of the lamps began as a hobby and grew into a business that was officially established in 2015. She had an Etsy shop to sell online, did a few shows, and was an early artist with Create Space. Yet she needed an investment in her company, every penny she made in sales went straight to parts for the next lamp. Julia Lee with Create Space mentioned applying to the BALSA Grant for a small business grant.

Bonnidette applied to the BALSA Grant and was selected as a finalist. “How has the Foundation helped me?,” Bonnidette noted, “It was huge for me.” The grant money enabled her to buy supplies in bulk to reduce production costs, which allowed her an opportunity to invest in her business and grow her company. However, Bonnidette said, “It’s not just the money with the BALSA Foundation, it is [also] the people you get to meet and throwing ideas around.”

The impact of the grant has snowballed. In less than four months she sold all the lamps made from that first bulk order and placed a second one. “For some people that [$1000 BALSA grant] might seem like only a little bit, but with that little bit, I was able to cut my costs so much that it’s allowed me grow at twice the rate without raising prices on customers,” says Bonnidette. She reports that her sales have doubled, “Last year I was so excited because I sold 10 lamps in December and I sold that in the first day of December this year.”

But it wasn’t just the money that impacted Lightenstein. Bonnidette’s business plan expanded thanks to a marketing class, an introduction to Instagram, and a fortuitous discussion with other entrepreneurs that opened up her eyes to what her business could become. “The other thing that was huge was the other recipients,” she commented. Bonnidette explained how the community connections with other finalists and entrepreneurs has been invaluable to share struggles, triumphs, and bounce ideas around. She also received an in-kind donation of a co-working space. With her expanded network and skyrocketing sales, she is grateful to have a professional place to meet clients.

Through the introduction to Instagram, Bonnidette found people all over the world interested in upcycling lamps. Combined with a conversation with other finalists regarding do-it-yourself products, a lightbulb moment occurred. “I can sell parts,” she thought, and moments later, “I can sell kits.” Beyond selling to customers who love the lamps as art, Lightenstein now has an expanded business plan to also reach customers who want to create one themselves.

Bonnidette describes her experience as a first-time entrepreneur as “scary and exciting and exhausting. It is all those things, and all in a good way. Even the scary is somewhat exciting. That’s the thing you go through so many different emotions.” She offers advice for first time entrepreneurs, “Take the first step, as simple as it sounds, just trust yourself, and take the first step. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Throw your hat over the fence and you will figure it out.”

For first-time entrepreneurs considering submitting a BALSA grant application, she highly recommends applying. Her advice: “Don’t be intimidated…just go for it.” She explained, “The worst that can happen is that you don’t get it.” She continued, “What’s great about the BALSA Foundation is that even if you are not one of the [BALSA grant] recipients, they have a great program where they will give you feedback.”

The BALSA Foundation has made a significant impact for the future of Lightenstein. Bonnidette summarized her experience with the BALSA Foundation, “I can’t express how grateful I am for the opportunity of working with the BALSA Foundation. It is a great organization. Anyone who can be involved with it should.”