Great Lakes Women’s Business Council
Founder & Executive Director
Michelle Richards is a leading authority on women-owned and small businesses. She has 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.
Under Michelle’s tenacious and visionary leadership, she expanded the organization’s boundaries beyond Ann Arbor’s city limit to advocate for women-owned businesses when significant barriers to the federal government and corporate procurement opportunities occurred in the 1990s. Michelle played a critical role in national efforts to persuade much of the corporate world that doing business with women-owned businesses was both prudent and profitable. Her primary target was getting the automotive sector to set spending goals with women-owned businesses.
As a founding member of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), she was a pioneer in the movement to certify female-owned businesses to enhance their credibility and cultivate significant business and economic opportunities.
As 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 worldwide. 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 Ghana, West Africa, entrepreneurs in microenterprise development curriculum. 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 in1984 which is now known as the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council (Great Lakes WBC). With more than 1,400 certified women-owned businesses in Michigan and Indiana, nearly 100 global corporate members, and providing small business loans totaling more than $ 8 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. Michelle has provided expert testimony to the U.S. Senate and House small business committees on behalf of women business owners. In addition to the numerous awards and recognitions 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.