Entrepreneur Profile: Michelle White
After nabbing sizeable funding boosts from an independent investor and the Central Michigan University-Research Corporation in 2009, the cherry queen recently relaunched her cherry nutraceutical line and redesigned its entire look. The TCBN tunes in to track Michelle's Miracle from its modest beginnings to its planned place at the helm of the North's burgeoning nutraceutical empire.
LELAND – In 1998 Michelle White was a single mother of twin boys, working full-time at a Leelanau County fruit processing plant, pursuing her bachelor's degree and wondering if there might be more to life. Twelve years later, White is the head of Michelle's Miracle®, the nation's leading provider of tart cherry nutraceutical products. While it sounds like the proverbial bowl of cherries, White would be the first to admit there have been a few pits along the way.
White's entrepreneurial journey began while she was working at her former job at the Leelanau processing plant – older people kept asking for cherry concentrate, a processing by-product. White says they all claimed the Montmorency concentrate significantly relieved the pain and swelling of arthritis. Certain this could be a new business venture for her employer, White brought the idea to the plant's owner. She says he showed no interest, so she decided to use her observation as the basis of her own start-up.
To say she began the climb to success in an unorthodox manner is putting it lightly. White broke the cardinal start-up rule by having absolutely no working capital. Instead, she used credit cards, her meager savings and a line of credit from her home. She hammered out a business plan with help from her family, support that held steady through the next turbulent years as she struggled to reinvent herself. White named her company Leland Cherry Company and launched in 2001.
Her product caught the attention of John Fisher of Fisher Properties. Days before Christmas, with a devastating financial deadline looming, White plucked up her courage, drove over to Fisher's home to ask for some financial backing.
With no idea what she would say or how she would present her case, White says she simply started talking, telling her story with heartfelt passion. She waited in suspense, anticipating rejection, but with a simple "OK" and a handshake, Fisher wrote a check, backed up by White's handwritten IOU.
Fisher's seed money and approval brought new backers and tremendous growth. In 2008, White says she realized the business had to go to the next level to survive.
Michelle's Miracle® reincorporated into a Delaware Corporation and Leland Cherry Company merged into the new entity. White began seeking early stage investors and attracted Phenomenelle Angels Fund in the lead position, with new investors, including the MI PreSeed Fund and her key supplier, Cherry Growers, Inc.
Michelle's Miracle® has seen tremendous change. March 2010 brought Tim Rudolph to the position of Vice President of Finance and Operations. Rudolph, a seasoned executive with over 18 year's experience, recently served as Chief Financial Officer at Core Energy LLC. White says, "Having Tim take over the day-to-day operations of the company will allow me to focus on extending our product line, and allow me up to spend more time stewarding the Michelle's Miracle® brand.
2010 also brought new leadership to the board of directors with the election of Ann E. McBrien, former Vice President of CBD Global Healthcare at Procter and Gamble. "Ann is an outstanding sales executive and marketer, and we look forward to benefitting from her insights and experience," said Michelle."
A re-designed retail website – MichellesMiracle.com – innovative product ideas and new marketing strategies have Michelle's Miracle® poised to reach new levels. Today the company sells not only Michelle's Miracle® Dietary Supplement but also CherriMax® Dietary Supplement, Dried Montmorency Cherries, and Hip Bones™ The Original Cherry Dog Treat™. In the past two years, several national distributors (UNFI, Tree of Life, Whole Foods South and Midwest) have picked up Michelle's Miracle® products.
What's next? White is following the lead of other successful entrepreneurs; she's giving back to the place that gives so much to her.
To help fund the future of cherry farmland in northern Michigan, Michelle's Miracle® donates a portion of every product sale to the Leelanau Conservancy. BN