From the basement of Victoria Harbour’s Old Town Hall, Makk Design is creating cutting-edge electronics for around the globe.
“We have customers all around the world,” says Stephen Makk, co-owner of Makk Design. “Most of what we do is export business. Most of our business is exporting consumer electronics that we have built here to the USA, Japan and China, so that’s kind of an unusual thing to be doing in Canada.”
Makk Design is a high-tech business that designs and manufactures electronic products for other companies. Their motto is “We make it real! And we don’t do easy!” Makk Design does everything from circuit and mechanical design to software development and industrial design.
Some of the consumer products they have created can be found on the shelves of Best Buy and Amazon. And they also create and design industrial products and manufacturing equipment for companies like Bombardier. They specialize in offering a fast turnaround for small batch, challenging creations.
“We have an automated production facility, and we are about as cutting edge as you can get,” Makk says.
They also created the original design and prototyping for Muse, an electronic brainwave monitor that uses Bluetooth.
“That’s an example of how we do a lot of work with tech start-ups,” Makk says. “We help companies get to the market. These companies grow and they go off on their own, but we are kind of like an accelerator for hire.”
Most electronic product manufacturing facilities are located overseas, typically in China and Mexico, which means it can be difficult for Makk Design to procure the parts needed for their designs. And being in Canada means labour costs can often be higher than in other countries. But that has not been a deterrent for Makk.
“I’m a big ‘Made in Canada’ advocate,” he says. “You have to be very lean and well organized, but it can be done.”
Despite the challenges that come with running his business, Makk says it has been a natural evolution to get where they are today.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and we tend to morph into what our customers need us to be,” Makk says. “I never really had a grand plan, I didn’t come at this from a visionary standpoint, it tends to be one thing leads to another. Somebody comes and says, ‘I have an idea, can you design this thing,’ so we figure out how to design it. And then the next stop is ‘Ok, I need a small batch built,’ and we figure out how to do that. And some have a plan and say ‘Well, I need to make 10,000.’ And here we are. We got here by serving our customers.”
Makk and his wife Riina started Makk Designs in Toronto in 2009 but moved to Victoria Harbour in 2016 when they took over the historic Old Town Hall building. They now run it together with the help of their two sons who act as technical contributors.
“I think there is a lot to be said for family businesses and community-oriented businesses,” Makk says. “All of our employees are local; we hire in the North Simcoe area and some from Barrie and it’s working out quite well for us. I love it here, compared to the city.”
To help Makk bring his business vision to reality in his new hometown, he turned to North Simcoe Community Futures.
“When you’re new in town and you’re a relatively new business, it’s hard to get financing and we were finding it difficult dealing with regular banks,” Makk says. “Perhaps there was a lot of skepticism with what we were trying to do because it’s bold. It is not the typical thing.
Thanks to NSCFDC Makk Design was able to secure a capital loan to help get the business off the ground. They used that money to purchase manufacturing equipment, laboratory equipment and to renovate and restore their historic building.
“It really helped us to get started,” Makk says. “We are really grateful for that. It is really helped us out here. We started out with about four people and now we are at 15 and we continue to grow here.”
Without the NSCFDC’S help, Makk says Makk Designs would not exist in its current form.
“The business would have been more of a small, very limited consultancy,” Makk says. “My services are known in the industry, so I guess I could have worked here and there on a gig basis, but we probably wouldn’t have been much of a business. It would have been a very limited scale and we would not have been hiring anyone that is for sure.
“I think the North Simcoe Community Futures understands the size of business that we are, and I think that meant the difference between being a thriving business and not being.”