Former VP takes the next step
Michele Ringelberg spins ThrivePOP digital media and marketing agency out of her husband’s IT services firm.
After nearly a decade managing the web department at her husband’s company, Next IT, Michele Ringelberg decided it was time to pick up the whole department and head out the door.
Ringelberg launched ThrivePOP — a digital media and marketing company staffed by Next IT’s former web department employees — on July 1 in the Muskegon Innovation Hub’s CoLaunch program operated by Grand Valley State University at 200 Viridian Drive in Muskegon.
The hub is only four miles up the road from Next IT, but it’s another world for Ringelberg. She already feels at home in the building situated on the shore of Muskegon Lake.
“CoLaunch (is) an innovative work environment for entrepreneurs and new businesses,” she said. “It’s meant for more creative entrepreneurs. Within the building, there’s a co-working space — a big room with many different types of seating — and employees can move around. They don’t have to be stationed at the same desk every day. If they want to sit on a beanbag chair, they can. If they want to sit on the couch, they can do that.
“I do have an office here, so I work out of that office. But when I need to get out and go look at the sunshine, I can do that.”
For Ringelberg, formerly vice president of creative services at Next IT, the hub offered the jolt of creativity she needed to get started on a new concept.
She launched the firm with 80 clients from Next IT who had been in need of a multifaceted agency.
“Our clients wanted to be able to purchase marketing, print media and web development from us, and we weren’t able to do that under the Next IT umbrella,” she said. “Some clients would use (Next IT) for web services and a marketing agency for print, and now it just makes it easier to work with one vendor for both.”
Although Ringelberg still is a partner at Next IT, she has stepped back from daily operations — and Next IT has become one of ThrivePOP’s clients. The two companies feed one another’s business via client referrals at discounted rates.
Ringelberg said the shift to marketing services was logical for her.
“It made sense (moving to marketing) from developing websites,” she said. “A lot of it is visual design; it is making sense of how can we market to our business’ customers. Some are business-to-business, some are business-to-customer. Every company we work with is so unique that it’s fun to be able to work with them and see how to market their business.”
ThrivePOP’s team consists of five full-time employees and three contractors who work remotely: a web strategist, a digital media coordinator, front-end and back-end web developers, graphic designers and sales consultants.
Ringelberg said they serve “a good variety” of industries.
“We have e-commerce, a weight loss clinic that markets to consumers, credit unions, vision companies with multiple locations, manufacturing, trucking industry, lawn care services and others.”
The firm offers online solutions, including email marketing, online marketing, pay-per-click management, web design, online apps, e-commerce and web hosting, as well as print services such as brochures, banners, postcards, corporate branding guidelines and logos.
ThrivePOP is starting out with a package-based model for its services: basic, standard and elite — which starts with a website, free text and image changes and SEO expertise — and runs up to more complicated projects. Projects that require more than 20 hours of work are quoted separately.
Ringelberg earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in graphic communication and marketing from Baker College and has more than 20 years of marketing experience.
She worked in marketing in Muskegon’s Hackley Health System for several years until Hackley merged with Mercy Health in 2008 and she was laid off from her management role. She joined Next IT part time at that point and eventually worked her way up to partnership and the vice president role as the business’ web management and marketing needs grew.
The moment that inspired her to start her own venture happened just four months ago.
“What inspired me to branch off was an event (the Business Journal) had, called Top Women Owned Businesses,” Ringelberg said. “When I watched those speakers, it really made me think, ‘Hey, they’re women, they can do it. There’s a lot of benefits to being a woman-owned business. I can do it too.’”
She sat spellbound listening to the keynote speech from co-founder of Boston Beer Co., Rhonda Kallman, who is known as “The Queen of Beer.”
“I loved Rhonda Kallman’s presentation. All the ups and downs she went through — it was amazing.”
In just a few months, Ringelberg formed ThrivePOP and now is in the process of earning a woman-owned business designation from the state of Michigan.
The Muskegon Innovation Hub won’t hold her company forever, she said.
“This is a temporary location to get everybody up and running and profitable. At that point, we’ll jump into a larger, more independent location,” she said.
Valerie Byrnes, business incubator manager, said the hub is made to work that way.
“The programs and services available through the Muskegon Innovation Hub at GVSU are designed to assist early-stage entrepreneurs and innovators through the launch process,” she said. “Entrepreneurs seeking assistance from the hub are looking to maximize growth with an end goal of long-term sustainability.”
Ringelberg said as her business grows, she expects to hunt for a location in downtown Muskegon and hire more employees.
She plans to target clients throughout the Midwest, but her focus right now is on the west side of Michigan, from the Indiana border all the way up to Traverse City.
“We would like to have an average growth of 20 percent per year,” she said.