A Florida SBDC Success Story: Polygon Solutions, Fort Myers, Florida
Friends Peter Bagwell, Jim Cox, and Steve Derbin had always dreamed of starting a business together, specifically a machine shop. In 2010 that dream took its first step towards reality when, over coffee in Michigan, the three decided to finally “just do it.” Today the three are partners in Polygon Solutions, Inc., which makes its home in an industrially zoned area of south Fort Myers.
Polygon Solutions specializes in making cutting-edge manufacturing technology here in Southwest Florida, specifically a revolutionary rotary broach tool holder, and also forward-thinking rotary broaching tools of different shapes and sizes for different industrial applications. Rotary broaching tools are used to create precision forms in precision machined products, like bone screws that go into people to repair body parts, explains Bagwell, a product engineer at the company.
“The product we make is state of the art,” says Bagwell. “Our primary clients are in aerospace, medical, and the automotive aftermarket industry. What else would you want inside of you other than a high-quality product [referring to the medical industry that they serve]?”
The partners opted to locate their manufacturing business in Florida instead of other states better known for their industrial markets simply because they were more familiar Florida. Cox, a manufacturing engineer at Polygon, had family in the Sunshine State and had visited here often; Derbin, the chief executive officer, had also vacationed in the area.
Bagwell pioneered the start-up by moving to Southwest Florida with his family in August of 2010. He did some research, and drove around looking for industrial space that was zoned for machining. “That narrowed our choices down a lot,” says Bagwell, adding that the company was able to get started relatively quickly because the infrastructure existed from the previous construction boom.
As part of their growth, the three partners wanted to expand Polygon’s reach into international markets. As fate would have it, Bagwell attended a local meeting of the Southwest Regional Manufacturers Association where the guest speaker from Enterprise Florida spoke about a program designed to assist small businesses reach international markets.
Bagwell followed up with the speaker, and in January of 2014 was connected with Kevin Brady, a certified business consultant specializing in international business at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida Gulf Coast University. We thought it would be cool if we could do this (expand internationally), but we had no idea where to start, explains Cox.
Brady visited with Polygon’s owners onsite and listened. Shortly thereafter in summer of 2014, he prepared a comprehensive international business plan for Polygon Solutions, one that surpassed the owners’ expectations. “He did an awesome job,” says Bagwell. “He did a presentation of the international business plan that he’d put together. We [the partners] were all sitting down with our jaws dropped — and that’s not an exaggeration. It did blow us away.”
One of Brady’s recommendations was that Polygon attend the International Manufacturing Technology Show, an industrial trade show that takes place annually. Attending the show in September of 2014 had an immediate payoff, according to Bagwell. Brady also suggested that Polygon attend their first international trade show in Mexico in early 2015. Our attitude was that if the plan was working, let’s just keep following the plan (and go to Mexico), says Bagwell. The company now has five trade shows on their calendar for 2015.
“The best benefit [of working with Brady at the SBDC] is that we didn’t lose the international business that we had, and we’ve gained more international customers at a faster rate. And we understand it better.” The international business plan Brady put together has also impacted Polygon’s U.S. marketing plan. “We learned that some of the old things we’d been doing in marketing were not very efficient, so we’ve been streamlining,” says Bagwell.
Bagwell explains that Brady’s international business plan resides in a well-referenced binder, and that in the back, there is a step-by-step step summary of what the company needs to do in order to be successful. And Polygon Solutions is intent on following the plan. “A step-by-step plan like this puts a business like ours at ease,” explains Bagwell.
“The partnership with the SBDC is something a small business cannot live without. To find a valuable partnership like this is extremely difficult,” he says.
“In Michigan, there is a machine shop on every corner; here, landscaping and brick pavers are on every corner,” laughs Bagwell.