Local company receives assistance from Small Business Technology Development Center
10:52 a.m., Dec. 3, 2012--When Steve Hague started a machine shop in his garage 15 years ago, he called the business “.0001 Engineering.” But he soon discovered that not only was the phone book unable to handle an entry beginning with a period, most people had no idea of the significance of the number. So he changed the name to PolarStar a nod to his grandfather who chose that name for the first boat he built.
It’s not a coincidence that Hague’s grandfather was also the person who inspired his career choice. “I’ve been making things out of metal since I was 12 years old,” Hague says, “and I knew from a very young age that I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps as a toolmaker.”
Rising to the challenge
Hague worked as a tool and process engineer at Chrysler for 15 years and made high-end custom parts for racecars during his spare time. When Chrysler was looking to shutter its Newark, Del., assembly plant late in 2008, Hague decided it was time to take his company to the next level, and left Chrysler with a buyout in May 2007.
Counseled by Bob Rausch, Hague is meeting the challenges of expanding his business at the Delaware Industrial Park in Newark and introducing new products.
In 2009, he and business partner Ben Noji launched PolarStar Precision Airsoft Components (PPAC) to fill the need for airsoft upgrade parts. PPAC is a division of Hague’s primary company, PolarStar Engineering & Machine, which services the automotive racing and plastics extrusion industries, as well as providing design, engineering, and job shop services.
In December 2012, PolarStar will begin shipping the next family of products featuring their patented launching device for airsoft guns that was introduced in late 2010. Airsoft guns are used for sport as well as for military and police training.
“I can’t say enough about Bob Rausch and the SBTDC,” Hague says. “When I started, I didn’t know anything about how to run a business, but now, thanks to them, I do.”
Hague has taken advantage of many of the free classes sponsored by SBTDC and found them to be “pertinent and full of substance.” He was also introduced to business coaching through the SBTDC's Business Development Network, an alliance of non-competing business owners who meet regularly with professional coaches to discuss problems and share advice. The program was offered free as a result of funding from the Small Business Administration (SBA) through the Small Business Jobs Act.
Most of all, Hague has found not only a counselor but also a friend in Rausch, who helped him organize a business plan and showcase the PolarStar technology to banks so that the company could obtain financing. After much effort, the company found a receptive ear in non-for-profit lender First State Community Loan Fund, which financed the business through the SBA's Community Advantage Program.
“I was really impressed with what Steve and his partner Ben [Noji] were doing,” Rausch says, “and I knew it was critical to get loan officers out to see and feel it. The approach worked the people from the banks got a sense of the energy in the place and walked away changed.”
Rausch shares Hague’s enthusiasm for the new product, which has only two moving parts and promises to shoot hundreds of thousands of rounds without needing to be repaired or replaced.
“It’s amazing to me that I was able to get free help from a person with credentials like Bob’s,” Hague says. “This guy was the CFO at Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, and he’s answering my financial questions. How do I put a price on that?”
“SBTDC is a wonderful resource,” he adds. Every small business owner should take full advantage of what the center has to offer.”
The Small Business Technology Development Center (SBTDC), a unit of UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnership (OEIP), exists to strengthen Delaware's economic base by providing quality services such as management assistance, educational programs, and resources to Delaware’s business community and potential entrepreneurs.
PolarStar Precision Airsoft Components was formed in January 2009 to fill the need for precision engineered airsoft upgrade parts. PPAC is a division of PolarStar Engineering and Machine (PSE&M). Founded in 1997, PSE&M specializes in servicing the automotive racing industry by designing and engineering systems and components from “art to part.”
Article by Diane Kukich
Photos by Evan Krape