Small Company Executive of the Year: Steve Grundahl, president and founder, Midwest Prototyping

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Midwest Prototyping in Blue Mounds is a 3D printing operation founded by Steve Grundahl 20 years ago. In July, the company won a Dane County Small Business Award — not only for its technological innovation, but for its ability to pivot to produce hundreds of thousands of face shields in the battle against COVID-19.

The company, now with 40 machines between offices in Blue Mounds and Colorado, has long been at the forefront of 3D printing technology, but this year it went over and above to launch Badger Shield, a company producing clear plastic shields to help prevent COVID-19’s spread.

When the University of Wisconsin–Madison asked Grundahl if Midwest Prototyping could produce face shields, he contacted Dave Franchino of Delve in Madison. Prototypes were designed but the men quickly determined that face shields could be produced much more efficiently if they were not 3D printed.

“The design is simple,” Grundahl says. “The supply chain was the problem.”

To manage that, Grundahl leveraged the help of customers, friends, and a group of local families to help produce the shields at a separate location in Mount Horeb. It put some people back to work immediately when COVID-19 was largely shuttering other operations.

Plastic Ingenuity in Cross Plains and Placon in Fitchburg agreed to produce the clear plastic lenses and, in fact, shipped them all over the Midwest, which was a nice boost to the local economy, Grundahl explains.

“This is where living in Wisconsin helps a lot,” he says. “We’re lucky to have two world-class companies like that in our backyard.”

Wisconsin Foam Products agreed to supply the headbands, but sourcing latex-free elastic proved the most challenging part. Grundahl called another longtime customer, Curt G. Joa Inc. of Sheboygan Falls, a manufacturer of industrial equipment for diapers and feminine products, which agreed to run a line of elastic for the Badger Shield effort.

“We were very proud that we were able to source everything we needed here in the state,” Grundahl says. “Fortunately for us, Wisconsin is still a state that makes things.”

Badger Shield and now Badger Shield Plus, its second generation, is approaching 1 million units produced, and its open-source design also has been replicated around the world.

Meanwhile, for the eighth year in a row, Midwest Prototyping ranked on the Inc. 1000 fastest-growing companies list.

Grundahl, a lifelong race car driver, draws parallels between managing during a pandemic and his favorite sport. “The way to be successful at racing is to remain calm and levelheaded, looking as far down the road as you can and processing that information while it’s still coming at you,” he states. “At Midwest Prototyping, it’s my job to be looking down the road.”

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