Mike Slate, Owner and Founder of Slate Solutions, began his career in the body armor industry before finishing college at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Collectively he spent 15 years learning the industry and building strong relationships with key players. In March 2015, Slate decided to take that experience and expertise and launch his own business manufacturing body armor and other tactical gear. Slate shared the story behind his journey and how his brand of armor and protective apparel stands out from the rest.
"I was originally hired by a large armor manufacture to do ballistics testing," Slate said. "I had no experience in the field having come from fiber optics, which is what they wanted. I started by doing quality testing and working in the ballistic lab. I had a curiosity and desire to learn more about the field and from there I progressed to design and product development and then got more involved on the operations side of things."
Slate’s career progressed and his experience and drive gave him the opportunity to be a part of a few of the largest body armor manufacturers as a senior leader over the next 10 years.
After a successful career leading large organizations, Slate made the decision to make the transition from a corporate environment to a small company where he helped build and standup the armor and protective apparel division. In gaining the experience of starting a new company the desire to be a business owner grew even stronger. For Slate, the opportunity to fulfill a life-long dream of starting his own business came, when the manufacturer he was working for at the time was going through some changes.
"I've always had the drive to be my own boss," he said. "I didn't know what that would be just that it had to be something I experienced in my career. It was an intimidating decision for sure. However, I was more afraid of not trying than I was of failing."
Luckily for Slate his integrity and drive to produce quality products had built him a rolodex of close industry contacts and mentors. These relationships enabled him to have a head start on understanding the market for a small business and gaining insights on his go to market approach. He focused solely on establishing sales channels before he even thought about design and manufacturing. From there, he turned his attention to securing a facility and the proper equipment as well as a strong team to support the company’s vision. As Slate shared, most of the work in the early stages was pretty straightforward, with one notable exception.
"I definitely underestimated the time and energy spent on getting people to pay their bills," he said. "I was so focused on getting the right products shipped out on time. It wasn't natural for me to hunt down money. Aside from finding skilled sewing operators, that was one of our biggest early challenges."
With a focus on performance and quality, Slate Solutions has seen steady growth by delivering light-weight and high-performing armor and by focusing on what they do best.
"Our ability to design high-performing products and the trust that we've established with our distributors and end-users is what sets us apart," Slate said. "We're always trying to find a way to bring new and innovative products to market. That involves looking at comfort, weight, price or a combination of all three. We make something that saves lives, so we have to make sure we never compromise quality. Our quality is what drives us, our quality is what saves lives."
Looking towards the future, Slate Solutions is focused on continuous growth. They're moving to a new location in the next 12 to 14 months and will add additional space allowing them to increase their workforce by approximately 15-20%.
What advice does Slate have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "A big separating factor is that you need to be a person willing to take the risk and actually do it," he said. "Build industry relationships and never compromise on what makes you great. Once you take the leap, make sure you understand your sales objectives and surround yourself with a great team. Also, make sure you have enough cash and find a way to generate sales quickly."