Midwest Microwave Solutions repeats as CBJ’s fastest growing company

By Dave DeWitte

CEDAR RAPIDS – No other company has claimed the Corridor Business Journal’s Fastest Growing Company title twice, let alone twice in three years – the new mark recorded by Midwest Microwave Solutions.

With revenue growth of 419.8 percent from 2011-2013, Midwest Microwave Solutions claimed top honors at the 2014 growth recognition event May  20 at the Cedar Rapids Marriott, edging out Premier Staffing Inc. with 418.3 percent growth.

“Our continued growth is based more on name recognition because we’ve had great success in the field,” CEO Phil Rezin said in an interview. “Midwest Microwave Solutions has products deployed worldwide, and the products we’ve had in Afghanistan the last three years have operated flawlessly.”

The company was in first place in 2012 with growth of more than 516 percent and in fourth place in 2013 with growth of 176.2 percent.

A total of 25 companies were honored at the May 20 event based on confidential evaluations provided by Honkamp Krueger of tax return information submitted by the companies. The list included four – World Trend Financial, Ready Wireless, Circle Computer Resources and Involta – that have made the list four times.

One of the 2014 Fastest Growing winners, TrueNorth Companies, was the first to be honored by the Corridor Business Journal in three categories – Largest Privately Held Companies, Fastest Growing Companies and Coolest Companies.

Rapid growth has characterized Midwest Microwave Solutions since its inception in 2005 as a radio frequency consulting and prototyping company by Mr. Rezin and Steve Wilson. They began producing a line of radio frequency tuners and digitizers.

Mike Horn, a digital signal processer expert, joined the company in 2009, and Midwest Microwave Solutions opened a small shop with 1,400 square feet of space in Hiawatha to make three products.

Products from Midwest Microwave Solutions allow customers to scan any communication band in existence, from microwave data links to garage door opener signals, Mr. Rezin said. They are mainstay tools used in gathering signal information to detect and analyze threats.

“Knowing that our product has saved lives by intercepting a signal – that makes makes you feel good,” Mr. Rezin said.

Mr. Rezin offered an insight into how three engineers launched a successful business.

“We avoided the fatal assumption made by any technician who goes into business for himself, in that by understanding the technical work of the business you know how to run the business.”

That assumption can leave the owners performing multiple jobs they do not understand, Mr. Rezin said, joking that “it’s the worst job in the world, because you’re working for a lunatic.”

Mr. Rezin said Midwest Microwave Solutions was fortunate to contract with capable firms specializing in the the non-engineering and manufacturing aspects of the business, including Honkamp Krueger, TrueNorth Companies, Skywalk Group and Collins Community Credit Union.

The company, which started with only three products, continued to add products in 2013, bringing the total in its catalog to 41. Many of the newer products modify previous designs to extend the frequency range and add capabilities.

More than 50 percent of Midwest Microwave Solutions’ products have the capability to convert radio frequency signals to data bytes that can be downloaded to a computer for processing by clients, Mr. Rezin said.

To the uninformed eye, the products appear as metal boxes with heat sinks, cable ports and an occasional switch or indicator light. Most of them are integrated by government customers into larger systems that monitor and analyze signals for threats. Nearly all of the orders are from government suppliers or original equipment manufacturers, and none of Midwest Microwave Solutions’ products are exported.

Midwest Microwave Solutions employs 23 in a 10,000-square-foot facility. The staff of Midwest Microwave Solutions is a carefully hand-picked team of experienced radio frequency engineers and other specialists, Mr. Rezin said, calling them “the cream of the crop.”

Mr. Rezin expects the growth of the business to moderate because the company does not want to grow so large that it would begin to lose its casual, yet exciting, small-company culture. Employees enjoy perks such as an everyday casual dress code, barbecues, bowling, popcorn, homemade ice cream and microbrews on Friday afternoons. They take turns deciding what format of music plays on the office’s web radio stream.

It was Mr. Rezin’s first address to a Fastest Growing Companies event, because Mr. Wilson has represented the company at previous events that conflicted with Mr. Rezin’s annual fishing trip. In fact, he strongly urged other entrepreneurs to protect their quality of life as they consider how to respond to the needs of their growing businesses. He said entrepreneurs should remember that they went into business to build a better life for themselves and their families, not to have a business.

“Your business is not your first order of business – you are,” Mr. Rezin said.

More than 420 attended the awards event at the Cedar Rapids Marriott.