Team

Kevin Ricco, Director


(616) 331-6901 • riccok@gvsu.edu

Kevin drives the vision of MAREC and is responsible for the overall management of the organization. His team-first attitude and extensive background in economic development give him the unique understanding of what it takes to help businesses and entrepreneurs thrive in Michigan. Prior to joining Grand Valley State University, Kevin served as Allegan County’s Director of County Development where he managed economic development, brownfield redevelopment, parks and recreation, and tourism. Kevin is a horticulturist at heart with a passion for business, holding a bachelor's degree in natural resource management from the University of Michigan and a master's degree in business administration from Eastern Michigan University. A proud Muskegon native, Kevin sits on the Downtown Muskegon Now board of directors and is a member of Rotary. Outside of MAREC, you can find Kevin enjoying stay-cations with his family at the Lakeshore, conducting horticultural experiments in his yard, or raucously cheering on the Michigan Wolverines.

What is your vision for MAREC?

“My goal is to carry out MAREC’s mission and empower our team to turn great ideas into successful business ventures. It’s much bigger than a single person’s vision for MAREC. It’s about impacting the region through our collective passion for entrepreneurship and innovation.”

 
 
 

Thomas Hopper, Associate Director for Business Development


(616) 331-6908 • hoppert@gvsu.edu

Thomas serves as the Associate Director for Business Development at MAREC, helping businesses turn bright ideas into marketable products and services. With a background in product development and a Six Sigma Black Belt, Thomas whips business visions into shape, bridging the technical side of development with big-picture business goals. He has served as the co-inventor on several patents, brought successful new products to market, and developed new business processes that saved millions of dollars. Prior to joining MAREC, Thomas directed product development at Exide Technologies in Germany and has been in the renewable energy sector for the majority of his career. Thomas holds his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from Alma College and a master’s degree in product development from the University of Detroit Mercy. Outside of MAREC, you can find Thomas spending time with his family in Michigan’s great outdoors or reading up on the latest science discoveries and current events.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs or startups?

“Focus on getting your product to market sooner rather than later. You generate income and deliver a better product only when customers are buying from you.”

 
 
 

Valerie Byrnes, Business Incubator Manager


(616) 331-6916 • byrnesva@gvsu.edu

Valerie serves as the Business Incubator Manager at MAREC, helping start-ups navigate the ocean of resources available to support their business goals. As a small business owner herself, Valerie understands the challenges entrepreneurs may face as they translate ideas into flourishing products and services. She is skilled at connecting businesses to customized resources and helping them develop or expand their market reach. Prior to MAREC, Valerie spent nine years as the President of the Barry County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Alliance where she helped create a revolving loan fund for business development. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Davenport University and is currently enrolled at GVSU obtaining her MBA. Outside of MAREC, you can find Valerie flexing her entrepreneurial muscles at her home décor store in Holland, Michigan.

Describe MAREC in one sentence

“MAREC is a unique place where innovative ideas meet collaboration and a fast-track to launch.”

 
 
 

Silvia Diedrich, Administrative Coordinator


(616) 331-6905 • diedrics@gvsu.edu

Silvia has served as the Administrative Coordinator at MAREC for the past 10 years. Whether it’s processing bookkeeping and accounting, coordinating facility rental space, or managing the office and its student employees, Silvia is the glue that keeps MAREC operating cohesively on a day-to-day basis. She wears several hats and does so proudly as she sees MAREC as a place where entrepreneurs can gain momentum. She holds a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and a master’s degree in higher education from Grand Valley State University. Outside of MAREC, Silvia teaches an adjunct class at Muskegon Community College (MCC) that equips students with tools to succeed in today’s competitive college environment. When she’s not supporting business growth at MAREC or student success at MCC, you can find Silvia spending time with her family, reading a good book, or going for walks with her two dogs.

What is your favorite thing about working at MAREC?

“The team. We have awesome, qualified people who are passionate about what they do. My philosophy is to always keep your sense of humor, and we always find moments to laugh. We work hard and we have fun while doing it.”

 
 
 

Tom Hull, Maintenance and Operations


(616) 331-6900 • hullth@gvsu.edu

Tom manages maintenance and operations at the Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Pew Campus and regional centers. He is the go-to person for all things facility-related at MAREC. He coordinates the set-up and teardown process for all events and makes sure that the facility is in tip-top shape on a day-to-day basis. Before joining GVSU, Tom worked as a baker for 30 years. He also enjoys giving back to the community through his volunteer work at Muskegon Area People and a local cat shelter. Outside of work, you can find Tom playing music on the weekends with the Carl Webb Band or teaching electronics to guitar makers at Galloup’s School of Lutherie in Big Rapids.

What are your favorite things about Muskegon?

“The Lakeshore is a great Muskegon asset. The weather is perfect in the summer — there is no reason to travel anywhere else.”

 
 
 

Michigan Small Business Development Center


Eric Seifert, Finance Strategy Specialist

Eric Seifert

(616) 331-7370 • seiferer@gvsu.edu

Eric Seifert is a Business Growth Consultant with the Michigan Small Business Development Center and is based at MAREC. Eric began his career with the MI-SBDC in 2008, working with a wide variety of startups and existing businesses, and quickly proved his ability to help clients prepare for loans and achieve financing. During the economic crisis of 2009-2011, his experience, resource knowledge, and lender relationships helped save many companies from foreclosure. Throughout his time working with small businesses at the MI-SBDC, Seifert has generated a total capital formation of $51,535,080 including loans, owner investment, and other capital, has helped businesses create 385 jobs, retain 256 jobs, and helped 15 different businesses launch. Eric was named the State Star for MI-SBDC in 2015. Prior to joining the MI-SBDC, Eric had a distinguished career in commercial banking and owned and operated several businesses. He was named SBA Financial Services Champion of the Year in 2006. He also manages the Muskegon Angel program.

 

 
 
 

Student Employees


Angela Small

Angela is a Communication Studies student at GVSU. She was initially attracted to MAREC because of it's convenient location in downtown Muskegon and the gorgeous view it provides overlooking Muskegon Lake. She enjoys working with the MAREC team while also being a part of the local community. 

What are your favorite things about Muskegon?

"I’m a Muskegon native – born and raised!  Muskegon has a beautiful waterfront, great state parks, and many fantastic locally-owned shops and restaurants. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else!"

Shanna Turner

Shanna is a Liberal Studies student at GVSU, with an emphasis on Human Services. She was initially brought to MAREC at the recommendation of a GVSU staff member. She enjoys working with the MAREC team and appreciates the friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

What are your favorite things about Muskegon?

"It’s a very diverse city. Muskegon has several attractions such as Lake Michigan, Museums, and Hackly House."