Great Lakes Women’s Business Council
Founder & Executive Director
Michelle Richards is a leading authority on women-owned and small businesses. She has successfully advocated for economic opportunities, provided much-needed resources, and built the credibility of community-based, women-owned and small businesses for nearly four decades.
After earning a Master of Social Work at the University of Michigan, Michelle elected to forego a traditional career path as she pursued more proactive and innovative methods to help individuals, families, and communities develop their skills, build their resources and achieve sustainable financial independence.
In 1984, Michelle began her professional career when she convinced the Ann Arbor City Council to create the Ann Arbor Community Development Corporation, establish a loan program, and provide other necessary support to help small businesses thrive.
Under Michelle’s tenacious and visionary leadership, she expanded the organization’s boundaries beyond Ann Arbor city limits to advocate for women-owned businesses when significant barriers to the federal government and corporate procurement opportunities emerged in the 1990s. Michelle played a critical role in national efforts to persuade much of the business world that doing business with women-owned businesses was both prudent and profitable.
As a founding member of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), she also was a pioneer in the movement to certify female-owned businesses to enhance their credibility and to cultivate significant business and economic opportunities. As a result, today Great Lakes WBC has 1,350 certified women business owners with $8.7 billion in annual revenue and 51,200 U.S. employees.
An advocate for small business enterprises at home and abroad, Michelle’s life work is to remove barriers, provide resources and foster accelerated small business growth across the United States and around the world. From hosting former President Bill Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus to participating in a global microcredit summit in Washington, D.C. and joining a delegation to train West African entrepreneurs in microenterprise development curricula, Michelle has a long legacy of championing women, minority and small businesses as a critically important segment of local communities and national economies.
Today, Michelle continues to lead the organization she established in 1984, Great Lakes Women’s Business Council (Great Lakes WBC), formerly known as the Center for Economic Enterprise and Development. With more than 1,300 certified Women’s Business Enterprises (WBEs) in Michigan and Indiana, nearly 100 global corporate members, providing small business loans in excess of $7 million, and creating 1,800 jobs, Great Lakes WBC is among the top economic development organizations in Michigan and Indiana.
Employing her passion for service to others and her roots in social work, Michelle blends her community activism and business acumen to advance women, minority and small businesses. Although modest about her accomplishments and successful advocacy, Michelle’s work has not gone unnoticed. She has provided expert testimony to both the U.S. Senate and House Small Business Committees on behalf of women business owners. In addition to numerous awards and recognitions that she has received throughout her notable career, Michelle was inducted into the Women’s Business Enterprise Hall of Fame by the American Institute for Diversity and Commerce in 2014.