FARGO — When Shane White and Kyle Fogarty started their funeral webcasting business in 2013, they felt they were bringing an essential service to those who couldn’t be there in person to say goodbye to a loved one.

With the coronavirus pandemic, their Fargo-based company, Midwest Streams, has suddenly become more essential than ever.

“We can roll out very quickly,” White said.

That’s a good thing. With congregations of more than 10 disallowed, those who need to attend a funeral service have been left in a heartbreaking position. White and Fogarty have a solution.

Midwest Streams offers family and friends an avenue to view a funeral by webcast or livestream, so no matter where they are in the world, they can still be present to gain needed closure.

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Fogarty said the mindset from the start has always been how to solve problems with technology.

“There’s no reason that people need to be missing funerals,” Fogarty said, “so how can we fix that? That’s what really started the whole thing for us.”

They’ve been validated by success.

“It took a little bit to see this make an impact on people’s lives,” Fogarty said.

All that changed on March 16.

“I woke up,” Fogarty said, “I saw my phone. Overnight the company just went viral.”

Shane White and Kyle Fogarty of Midwest Streams. Special to The Forum
Shane White and Kyle Fogarty of Midwest Streams. Special to The Forum

When state lockdowns began to happen, the owners said, they started getting pages of notifications of missed calls on their phones.

The demand for their services has increased to such a degree, the owners have had to bring on more staff. They now have seven total employees.

“Literally overnight, the entire funeral industry changed,” Fogarty said.

White handles the technical side, while Fogarty focuses on the business and instruction models. Their main clients are funeral homes across the nation. The homes pay a monthly service fee of $100 to $300, which allows them to have unlimited webcasts. Since 2013, they’ve done more than 4,500 funerals, White said, connecting an estimated half million people with a service they may have otherwise missed.

In the beginning, as the pair gained national attention, webcasting was the only option. A taped version of a funeral service was available for viewing at any time via their web-based application, which could also be hosted on a funeral home’s website. Live streaming wasn’t quite there yet, largely due to the constraints of WiFi service.

White said they were set to debut live streaming in July. That deadline suddenly became Monday, March 16.

“The coronavirus was really what motivated us to do that,” White said. “When that happened we were, like, we’ve got to move to July to Monday.”

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White had been writing code all weekend, and by Monday he was already getting calls about the possibility. The first one came from their day-one client, Shane Decker, manager of Pedersen and Starbuck Funerals Home in Morris and Starbuck, Minn.

The funeral homes serve 140 to 150 families every year. Decker has been webcasting services for a decade, but started using Midwest Streams five or six years ago. It’s allowed closure for the communities he serves.

“Just because you’re not an immediate family member doesn’t mean you’re not grieving,” he said.

The pandemic has been the most difficult time in his long career, Decker said, and he urges people not to deny themselves the closure of a funeral service.

Midwest Streams makes that possible, and now they’re live streaming and recording at the same time.

“We have that permanent record that we give to the families,” Decker said.

It’s an overwhelming time for a small company that’s been forced to grow up seemingly overnight.

But, of the many building blocks of success, one of them is origins.

White and Fogarty met while in college — White at North Dakota State University and Fogarty at Minnesota State University Moorhead — and Midwest Streams got its start with state grant money via Innovate ND, run by the entrepreneurial department at NDSU, Fogarty said. The pair also worked out of Prairie Den, as well, and have been speakers at 1 Million Cups.

No matter how far they’ve come, they never forget where they started.

“We take a lot of pride in being founded from Fargo,” White said.

For more information on Midwest Streams visit www.midweststreams.com/