Rapid Reconnect: A Q & A with Muskegon Innovation Hub Director Kevin Ricco

We previously connected with the core Muskegon Innovation Hub (the Hub) team back in 2017 after its transition from the well-known Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MAREC). The goal of the rebrand was to be able to provide support to even more entrepreneurs throughout the community. Director Kevin Ricco shares an update, information about how they have been continuing to provide businesses with support despite the pandemic and a look ahead.

Rapid Growth: When we previously spoke, the Hub had recently completed its rebranding and was seeking to increase awareness and engage with more of the community. How have things progressed since then?

Kevin Ricco: The rebranding, renaming, and refocus could not have worked out better. We saw immediate returns in the entrepreneurial community, and I think the rebrand opened up a lot of doors for us. I think it let entrepreneurs on the lakeshore know that we are here to work with all of them, not just those with an alternative energy focus. From 2016 to 2020 our numbers and metrics increased steadily. If you reference our series of annual reports, you will see the steady increase in [the] economic impact we have had in the community.

RG: What new challenges have presented themselves for both the Hub and its clients due to COVID-19 and how have you been able to address them? 

KR: Clearly the pandemic has been a challenge, not only for the entrepreneurs we serve but also for our program. We had to close our doors for two and a half months in 2020 but made the decision to reopen to our members and clients June 1, 2020. We recognized that by not having access to our facility, they were being hurt financially. We followed updated GVSU safety protocols to make the facility as safe as possible for all of our guests and clients. Many came back right away but for some, it took many months before they felt comfortable enough to come back. For many of our entrepreneurs, business was able to rebound quickly or even grow due to the changes created by the pandemic. However, many certainly suffered for various reasons, such as gaps in the supply chain for certain items. All in all, though, most have weathered the storm very well. That is a testimony to their dedication and good business sense.

RG: What unexpected wins have you had? 

KR: During the pandemic, there are a few things that were somewhat surprising — we had a dramatic increase in our number of incubator clients. Many entrepreneurs took this as an opportunity to try something new. Perhaps they were displaced from their job. Or, with the ability to work remotely, many had extra time on their hands. This was the perfect time for them to take that innovative business idea to see if they could make a go of it. 

As we have moved further into 2021, we have also had an increase in the number of entrepreneurs and small businesses that call the Hub home. In fact, during the winter of 2021, we had such a demand for private office space, we completed a small remodel project at the Hub that opened up seven new private offices spaces, which were filled before construction was complete. 

I think an even bigger win is how the entrepreneurial community, and all of the support organizations that are here to help, pulled together to hold up and support one another. Pretty incredible.

RG: What is one call-to-action you would give to small business owners right now? 

KR: The pandemic isn’t over. In parts of the world, it is still raging and dramatically impacting the global supply chain. There is still a massive amount of pent-up demand and once the logjam breaks, it will be a flurry of activity. I would suggest having a plan for when that happens and be ready to take advantage of a super-hot market. Don’t get left behind.

RG: What do you hope to see in the next three to six months?  

KR: Well, I hope to see the global pandemic come closer to being in check. Unfortunately, that is just so hard to predict at this point in time. I do get concerned that with the most recent spikes in infections there is real concern that you will see large sections of the country and the world, begin to close again. My hope is that progress continues to be made and as we round into 2022, we have a better handle on the situation and the global economy can really start to open up and come alive.

About Leandra Nisbet: Leandra Nisbet, Owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC and Co-Owner of Brightwork Marine LLC, has over 15 years of experience in leadership, sales & marketing, and graphic design. She helps businesses grow and assists with: strategic planning, marketing concept development/implementation, risk management, and financial organization. She is actively involved in the community, sitting on several Boards and committees, and has been recognized as one of the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in Grand Rapids.

Contact Leandra Nisbet by email at [email protected]!
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.