Name: Michelle Smart
Title: Founder, Bags To Butterflies
Bags To Butterflies is a Detroit-based social enterprise with an outreach to women re-entering the community from prison. Michelle Smart founded Bags to Butterflies in 2014 after discovering the daughter of a close friend had made a terrible mistake that landed her in prison. Devastated, her first thought was “what is her life going to be like when she returns home.” Bags to Butterflies helps these women to identify the unhealthy emotional triggers in their lives, empowering them to redefine their life’s purpose with a supportive and caring network.
Me: Why are you an entrepreneur?
Michelle: For me, being an entrepreneur is not about limiting myself to the status quo, it’s about challenging the status quo by creating change within the community in which I live. In a sense, it’s like being a rebel with a cause!
Me: What problem would you like solved?
Michelle: One of the missions of Bags To Butterflies is to help decrease recidivism among female returning citizens (ex-offenders) within in our community. Research shows that unemployment and crime often go hand-in-hand, and according to statistics, one-third of returning citizens will re-offend. Studies also have shown that integrating returning citizens back into communities without the ability to find employment can lead to recidivism. On September 24, 2016 Bags To Butterflies will host the first ever job fair and empowerment expo for female returning citizens, “Empowered To Change,” bringing together hiring professionals from companies throughout metro Detroit as well as resources to empower female returning citizens to make a difference in their own lives.
Me: Advice you’d wished you’d had or had followed?
Michelle: Scrutinize any joint projects carefully and qualify the person you are doing the project with (especially friends and family). Everyone doesn’t have your best interest at hand!
Me: What does success look like for you?
Michelle: Success for me is knowing that my organization, Bags To Butterflies, is helping to change lives. A few months ago, I received an e-mail from a female returning citizen who participated in a photo shoot that we sponsored. She said: “What you did for me gave me a huge sense of pride in my success and confidence in my beauty. I cannot express how deeply you and your organization touched me and my family.” When I started this project, my goal was to change “one” life. Mission accomplished!
Me: Who are your heroes?
Michelle: My heroes are the social enterprise organizations that are making a difference in the communities in which they live (and the world).
Me: What is your best discovery?
Michelle: My best discovery is that I am continuously growing and learning and that I can look beyond what I’m told to discover what I want to achieve for myself.
Me: What would the title of your biography be?
Michelle: From Baggage, To A Blossoming Butterfly
Me: What makes the Detroit entrepreneurial ecosystem unique?
Michelle: Detroit IS the future! As a young girl, I witnessed entrepreneurs in Detroit demonstrating a true passion for building something great from almost nothing and pushing themselves to achieve their goals. The landscape of the city is changing and a new paradigm for social experiences and business opportunities are being created. The entrepreneurial spirit is once again thriving in Detroit!
Me: If a Shark Tank investor asked “why should I invest in Detroit?, what’s your answer?
Michelle: Detroit is on the verge of revitalization. From the streets of downtown Detroit to the neighborhoods, Detroit is experiencing a Renaissance. As an investor, you’ll be investing in a new Detroit with a fresh start!
Me: From meetups to co-working to networking events, what are your top recommendations for someone just stepping into the Detroit startup ecosystem?
Michelle: My top recommendation would be to find a mentor to help enhance your business development.
Me: Anything else we should know about?
Michelle: To support our mission, I designed a collection of handbags to function as a reminder for all women to “let go” of the past, “live life” to its fullest and “FLY” towards their dreams. Some of the handbags are made of reclaimed wood and are assembled by female returning citizens who have a desire to give back to the community as part of our “people giving to people, so they can give to others” initiative.