Mike Stephan has been entrepreneurial-minded since he was a kid. He grew up working with his dad, Syd Stephan, in the landscaping and snow removal industry. He found that when you spend time entrenched within a job that includes some manual labor, sometimes you begin to identify inefficiencies. Mike not only identified processes or machinery that could use improvements, but his mechanical-focused mind saw them as business opportunities.
These observations led the Stephan’s to co-found KAGE Innovation in March of 2008 in Stillwater, Minnesota. Today they offer an array of machinery accessories and attachments to conquer the toughest snow removal or lawn maintenance jobs. We sat down with him to learn a little bit more about his journey.
What is KAGE Innovation?
We’re an equipment manufacturer for the professional grounds manager. One of our specialties is several varieties of snow removal systems. We’ve literally created an efficient two-in-one tool. Our product takes the angle plow and the snow pusher containment system and it combines them into one fast and seamless operation.
Tell us a little bit about starting the company.
Well, my father and I actually co-founded the business. He was always more of the investor and salesmen, while I was the guy behind the scenes tinkering and making the product better. I also handled the manufacturing. I finally took over the actual company as owner about four years ago. It’s been an extremely positive experience overall, and we’re very proud of the company we’ve built.
What makes your products unique?
I would have to say that it’s all about always keeping the operator in mind. When we’re making a product we always have to ask ourselves, “what is real quality? What is real value?” This ensures that we’re not going to over-build something just to make it look or seem like it’s built better. We design with utility in mind. So, it’s not about cutting a corner to make it cheaper. It’s about the experience for our customers.
Why did you choose to work with MidWestOne Bank?
MidWestOne offered that “personal touch” and a community focus that was a very good fit for us. We wanted to grow our business, and helped us make the transition from Stillwater to Osceola, Wisconsin this year. MidWestOne really knew that community, and their network and partnership ultimately helped us construct our new facility. They put us in touch with the necessary people in local government, as well as their SBA department.
I can’t say enough how much the SBA department at MidWestOne has enabled us to really grow. Through this process, we will bring new business, a new manufacturing facility, and at least 24 high-paying jobs to Osceola, Wisconsin.
The assets that MidWestOne has are critical in our business development – now and in the future.
Speaking of the future…what’s next for KAGE Innovation?
We’re excited for what’s to come. KAGE Innovation will continue to be a driving force for innovation in the landscaping and snow removal industries. By combining our experience, customer input and our manufacturing reach, we will be able to lead the industry with new and exciting, productivity-enhancing equipment and processes!
Click here to learn more about Mike Stephan and KAGE Innovation.