Millennial entrepreneurs Mark Eiden and Tobias Flood want to shape the future of manufacturing by sparking creativity.
In 2017, they founded Metal Trade Solutions LLC, a metalworking job shop in Winsted that offers metal fabrication, machine tool and design services. Southwest Initiative Foundation’s Microenterprise Loan Program helped them get started with a loan to purchase their first machine – a CNC plasma cutter. Five years later, the business is growing and sparks are flying.
When they met at St. Cloud Technical & Community College, Mark and Tobias were in their first year of the Machine Tool Technology Program. Motivated to learn how to build things using metals, Tobias had spent hours at the machine shop at Dassel-Cokato High School as a student there. Mark grew up on a dairy farm and started repairing and welding things around the farm at a young age. The two discovered they had more in common: They didn’t want to become traditional machinists.
“The work environment in a lot of the industry is, ‘We do things this way because this is how we’ve always done things,’” Tobias said. “Mark and I just wanted that creativity back, to do things the way we wanted, embrace these new ideas and methods of production.”
After earning their degrees in machine tool technology, Tobias and Mark took a year of business classes to prepare for opening their own shop. They entered the workforce directly out of school, spending nights and weekends renovating space in a former creamery building that would become the future home of Metal Trade Solutions.
“The drive for me to go on our own was just bringing in our own views about new things. You can take a raw piece of material and make anything out of it if you’re creative, if you know the processes,” Mark said. “I always think it’s really cool that it could be anything.”
In addition to financing, SWIF staff provide free technical assistance resources to microloan clients to improve their business management skills. Areas of support include business planning and financial analysis, QuickBooks training, marketing assistance and other training opportunities for the life of the loan.
“Mark and Tobias have taken full advantage of the technical assistance we offer. They are innovative and recognize opportunities to grow, and it’s helped them navigate the first years of their business, which can be some of the most challenging,” said Jackie Turner, SWIF Economic Development Officer.
“Southwest Initiative Foundation has been a huge help since we started. They provided help to give us direction,” Mark said.
Metal Trade Solutions made its first dollar in 2017, and in 2019 Mark and Tobias were both able to work full-time at the business. Since last year, they’ve added their first three employees and are looking to fill more roles. Part of their vision is to promote careers in manufacturing. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development projects 86,500 job openings across the industry by 2028 as older workers retire.
“There’s a shortage of good machinists out there, so we’re also thinking about how we can sell the job to someone. You don’t have to go to business school or be a doctor; you can cut metal and make sparks,” Tobias said. “We want to spend time telling our story, sharing what we’re doing, the processes we use to make parts and the customers we’re helping.”
“I think in 20 years, if I’m able to walk into the business and see that we inspired a whole bunch of young people in our company to learn manufacturing and learn something new, that’s success to me. And they’re happy coming to work,” Mark said.
Hear Mark and Tobias tell their business story on the “Lost and Found” podcast.
“Lost and Found” is hosted by Betsy Bonnema. She is the creator and facilitator of Startup, collaborative marketing workshops built for small businesses in rural communities.
Through a partnership with Startup, SWIF loan clients have an opportunity to develop their company brand, goals, growth strategies and vision for the future.
The Southwest Initiative Foundation Microenterprise Loan Program receives funding assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This story appears in our 2022 spring/summer issue of CONNECT newsletter. See the full issue