Undeterred by the pandemic

Published on February 22, 2022

Owner of Exakt Industries, Mike Oostenbrink received the Spirit of NAIT Alumni Award for determination and resolve as a tradesperson and entrepreneur during the pandemic

The pandemic proved to be a difficult, even undesirable time to start building a business. Supply chains were strained or broken, and customers became more cautious. Mike Oostenbrink (Machinist ’13), however, was uniquely positioned to succeed. 

For one thing, he was good at leading people and building relationships. In 2013, NAIT’s industry partner, Sandvik Coromant, presented him with a leadership award based on recommendations from instructors. They followed up by offering him a job as technical sales representative. 

“My job at Sandvik was to go in and understand customers’ problems,” he says. “You try to optimize and speed things up.” Mike excelled at it and, after another role with industrial cutting tool manufacturer DMG Mori and training in Germany, he came to wonder if he could make a go of it by himself.  

Exakt Industries was the result – and Mike wasn’t about to be stopped by the pandemic. 

Pushing through the pandemic 

“A lot of machinists have a dream to start their own shop at some point,” says Mike. “It’s something I wanted to do, even as a student at NAIT.” 

After incorporating in January of 2021, Exakt was up and running by April as a full-service CNC machine shop. 

The industry revolves around building parts made of metal, plastic and other materials. “Machinist is a very technical trade,” says Mike. “Some parts you are making must be accurate to less than a thousandth of an inch – less than the width of a hair. NAIT provides great building blocks on the trade.” 

The other challenge, however, is building a business in the trade, pandemic conditions or not. Competition is stiff, and shops often must compete internationally to survive, and against companies of all sizes. While beginning as a one-person operation, Mike stuck closely to his ethos of emphasizing optimization. 

“I’m investing in automation and quick-change solutions as much as possible … and identify ways to make things as fast and smart as possible.” 

This approach led to Exakt’s first big break: winning a contract to build 10,000 components for a boat accessory, beating out companies from the United States and China. 

The initial order has since been doubled, and Exakt has several repeat customers, keeping Mike busy – and grateful.

A good kind of stress 

“Right now, I’m stressing about how much time there is in a day,” says Mike. “Before, I could have stressed about finding work.” 

Just as he was supported during his time at NAIT, Mike has taken on an apprentice from the Machinist program. He hopes to expand his partnership with the polytechnic in the future, and perhaps give a young tradesperson the inspiration they need to pursue their passions despite whatever challenges may arise. 

“If you’re passionate enough about something and love what you’re doing, try to find a way to make it work,” says Mike. “There’s nothing more satisfying than working for yourself.” 

Spirit of NAIT Alumni Award

Mike Oostenbrink received the Spirit of NAIT Alumni Award determination and resolve as a tradesperson and entrepreneur during the pandemic. It is awarded to alumni who have made exceptional advances or achievements in their career within 12 years of graduation.