MMS: Radioing in at No. 1

By Gigi Wood

HIAWATHA – If they tell you what they produce, they would have to kill you.

That may be an exaggeration, but Midwest Microwave Solutions’ products are very James Bond. Simply put, Midwest Microwave produces highly-sophisticated radios for the government and large corporations. Since their start in 2005, the company has grown from two employees to 16 and is so busy, it has to turn down orders for new designs from customers.

Midwest Microwave was honored May 22 at the Corridor Business Journal’s 2012 Fastest Growing Companies award breakfast for coming in first place, with 516.1 percent growth, amongst this year’s top 25 fastest growing companies.

This issue of the CBJ is dedicated to the top 25 Fastest Growing Companies of the year, which were unveiled last week at the Coralville Marriott.

To earn a spot on the list, businesses had to meet a number of criteria. First, companies had to earn at least $350,000 from 2009-2011. Those companies then submitted three years of tax forms or audit statements to Honkamp Krueger & Co., a Hiawatha-based accounting firm, which independently tabulated the results. The winners were selected based on their growth.

Three companies, Clickstop, TMone and Geonetric, have now appeared on the list four times since the list started in 2008.

Appearing on the list for the first time, Midwest Microwave is a privately-held small business engaged in design and manufacture of high performance receiver products. Those receiver products give customers the capability of gathering intelligence about signals that are present in the airwaves.

“If you think about the old Bearcat scanners, people would sit at home and listen to what’s going on, on the air. We provide that capability but to a much larger scale,” said Phil Rezin, Midwest Microwave’s president. “When we say we give our customers the capability of gathering intelligence, that intelligence could include identification of signals, the determination of a friend or a foe, the collection of voice, analysis of threats, as well as precise geo-locations, which means the exact location identification of a transmitter. So, somebody talking on a wireless device.”

Never fear; it is illegal in theUnited Statesto listen in on cell phone conversations without a high-level court order.

“Of all the signals that are out there, there are an enormous range of frequencies, not just FM broadcast radio or your little FM wireless cell phone or garage door opener,” Mr. Rezin said. “Our products go all the way from those kinds of things to microwave beta lengths. Part of the intelligence is just figuring what’s out there. That’s part of what the radio can do. Then it can characterize what those signals might be and then whether they might be of interest or not. If they are, then you capture a signal and convert it to computer language so it can be analyzed either in the radio or in a post-processing host computers or servers.”

Mr. Rezin, an electrical engineer, started working for a receiver manufacturing company inMarylandin 1983. Ten years later, he ended up working for Rockwell Collins inCedar Rapids, where he met his future co-founder, Steve Wilson and staff. A third partner, Mike Horn, joined the company in 2009.

Development of the type of radio receivers Midwest Microwave produces was not of interest to Rockwell Collins at the time, although there was some customer demand.

“Rockwell was not interested in at the time because in reality, it’s a smaller volume, very unique and you have to have very quick reaction time. You have to develop your products very quickly,” he said. “The revenue that’s generated by this business, it just doesn’t fit well with the bigger corporations. There is a niche and a need that we felt we could go ahead and address. And the desire to have a little bit more control and freedom had something to do with it also.”

There are several other receiver manufacturing companies in the industry. But Midwest Microwave is different, Mr. Rezin said.

“We developed a line of products that were lower cost and at the same time innovative enough and the fact that we could do these very quick reactions to customer needs, which some of the larger companies that are out there that do receivers cannot meet,” he said.

Five years ago, Midwest Microwave developed a specific receiver that was the first of its kind able to process and convert radio signals to bits and stream the data on computers at a very high data rate, higher than anyone was able to do before, Mr. Rezin said.

Mr. Rezin attributes the company’s growth to its highly-experienced team of engineers, who can develop and produce receivers within three months.