Ryan and Nichole Mead could’ve made their home anywhere.
But the entrepreneurs — who are also the parents of three young children — chose Norfolk.
“In today’s world, you really get to choose where you want to live,” Ryan said. “For us to choose to stay in Norfolk has been an actual physical decision to say this is where we want to be.”
The Meads are exceptionally busy. They each own and operate their own businesses while juggling the finer points of marriage and parenthood.
“They’re all in school now,” Nichole said of their three children, ages 10, 8, and 6 years old. “They’re all at the same school for a year. This is the only year that will happen. It’s wonderful.”
Their children are also at the age where they’ve taken a greater interest in the goings-on at their mother’s business, Paulyn’s Dance Studio.
“It’s fun for me to be able to have them here with me at work,” Nichole said. “I can spend time with them and still be at the studio.”
Nichole purchased Paulyn’s in 2000, when she was just 20 years old. She had been a student at the dance studio since her childhood. Later, she taught dance there. After graduating from Northeast Community College in 1999, Nichole faced a decision. She would either continue with school, perhaps pursing something in the education field because she liked working with children, or she would do something related to her love of dance. When the opportunity came up to purchase the studio from its retiring owners, it seemed like a shot at doing something with the best of both worlds.
The studio has grown under her direction. It now includes satellite locations in Wisner, West Point and Neligh. Each year, there are about 450 students who look to her studio for dance lessons. Nichole credits a large portion of her business’ success to the hard work of her teachers.
Ryan has been by her side throughout the endeavor. He happened to be the Wells Fargo banker who helped her with the cash flow projections and business analysis when she decided to move forward with purchasing the studio.
But the two had known each other prior to that point. In fact, they had known each other since childhood thanks to the longtime friendship shared by their parents, who had taught together at Northeast. It was Ryan’s mom who first introduced Nichole to dance.
“She was signing up Ryan’s sister for dance and asked my mom if she would like to take me, too,” Nichole said.
Despite the closeness of their families, Ryan and Nichole never considered dating, mostly because they are separated by a six-year age difference. But after they finished wrapping up financial paperwork for the studio purchase, their relationship began to blossom.
“Afterward, she would call me every now and then with questions,” Ryan said. “One time I said, ‘Would you like to go for pizza or dinner or something?’ The rest is history.”
Ryan and Nichole got married in 2003.
Ryan’s business began after he left banking in 2007. He spent some time working in recruiting and public relations with Dr. Jim Pillen. That’s when he began recognizing a need for a better way for organizations and businesses to find the right roles for the right people.
“We couldn’t figure out why some individuals had the same … educational background, upbringing and personality types, yet some would have great experiences in the organization and others wouldn’t,” Ryan said. “Why do some people leave? Why do some people thrive?”
These questions led Ryan to start Vitru, a software company that bases its business on industrial psychology. Vitru helps businesses and organizations around the world build and design better teams by assessing the factors that motivate employees and team members. The business began in 2011. It now employs five people, none of whom live in Norfolk (like the Meads).
The decision he and his wife made to stay in Norfolk was one the Meads did not make lightly. But the couple made a commitment to stay in Northeast Nebraska when their children were born.
“Our kids go to an amazing school,” Ryan said of Norfolk Montessori School. “That’s been a big part of the decision for us to stay here.”
Their decision was also guided by the quality of life and opportunities available in the community, both of which Ryan said he believes are keys to keeping and attracting more young professionals to Norfolk.
Ryan said Nebraska has a wonderful business climate, and he would like to see a better way to connect business owners who are ready to transition with young entrepreneurs who are looking for those opportunities.
“I would say there are a lot of untapped opportunities that just haven’t been discovered yet,” Ryan said.