Maryville University Launches Digital Development Project to Address Digital Skills Gap Among Minority Small Business Owners

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Maryville University announced The Digital Development Project, a new initiative to help St. Louis small business owners of color grow their businesses online to meet the demands of a digital-first world that has been accelerated by the pandemic. The Digital Development Project will leverage Maryville’s legacy of aiding individuals in rapidly acquiring new knowledge and skills through online learning and upskilling. The initiative is powered by Pearson, which offers an online platform that brings learners easy access to flexible online courses and certificates run by top universities around the nation.

The Digital Development Project was created to address the widening digital skills gap among small business owners of color, who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and already face systemic barriers to accessing financing and business resources. To identify local small business owners in sectors most impacted by the pandemic, such as retail, restaurant, and personal services industries, Maryville partnered with five community advocacy organizations in St. Louis, including:

  • Greater St. Louis Inc.
  • Heartland St. Louis Black Chamber of Commerce
  • Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis
  • St. Louis Minority Business Development Agency Business Center
  • Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis Women’s Business Center

“Providing access and opportunity to a high-quality education for underserved populations has always been central to Maryville’s mission,” said Dr. Mark Lombardi, president of Maryville University. “In collaboration with our esteemed community partners, the Digital Development Project extends our impact into the small business community, empowering and providing entrepreneurs of color with the digital expertise and skills they need to thrive in today’s innovation economy.”

This fall, participants will receive access to a 10-week small business-focused digital marketing training program, industry certifications, and professional advising at no cost. Additionally, experts recommended by each organization will serve as business advisors, providing guidance on e-commerce, acquiring loans, business skills, and more.

The fully online program will be taught by industry experts and supplemented with virtual mentor-led sessions. In addition to receiving practical training on key technologies, participants will learn techniques to increase their businesses’ online reach and audience size.

Covering topics such as search engine optimization, brand development, and marketing automation with HubSpot, the program will ensure participants have the foundation needed to succeed. By the end of the program, participants will have the opportunity to build a strong understanding of e-commerce, digital marketing channels, analytics, measurement platforms, strategies, and tactics.

While the inaugural Digital Development Project will serve and support small business owners of color in the St. Louis region, Maryville is evaluating plans to roll out the program nationally following the pilot launch this fall.

“We will support and digitally reskill small businesses owners who are based in Maryville’s native St. Louis with the introductory Digital Development Project, but the work doesn’t stop there,” said Laraine Davis, vice president for community and government relations of Maryville University. “Following launch, Maryville aims to take the program to the national stage and help small business owners of color across the nation.”

To learn more about The Digital Development Project, partner organizations, and participants, visit



About Maryville University:
Founded in 1872, Maryville University is a comprehensive and nationally ranked private institution with an enrollment of more than 11,000 students. Maryville offers more than 90 degrees at the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels, as well as several certificates that align with the undergraduate and graduate education levels. Maryville is recognized as the second fastest-growing private university in the United States by The Chronicle of Higher Education, serving students from all 50 states and 47 countries. More than 20,000 Maryville alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.

About Pearson PLC:
Learning is the most powerful force for change in the world. More than 20,000 Pearson employees deliver our products and services in nearly 200 countries, all working towards a common purpose: to help everyone achieve their potential through learning. We do that by providing high-quality digital content and learning experiences, as well as assessments and qualifications that help people build their skills and grow with the world around them. We are the world’s leading learning company. Learn more at

About Greater St. Louis, Inc.:
Greater St. Louis, Inc. is a 501(c)(6) organization of businesses formed through the merger of five private sector-led and St. Louis-focused economic development and civic leadership organizations on Jan. 1, 2021. The five combining organizations were AllianceSTL, Arch to Park, Civic Progress, Downtown STL, Inc., and the St. Louis Regional Chamber. Greater St. Louis, Inc. brings together the business community to help drive economic growth and create opportunities for all with a focus on inclusive growth. Greater St. Louis, Inc. is in a position to drive economic growth with a unified voice, a bold agenda, and as one St. Louis metropolitan area that is anchored by a vibrant urban core. Additional information is available at

About Heartland St. Louis Black Chamber of Commerce:
To disrupt and dismantle the systems causing economic disenfranchisement in black businesses in and around the St. Louis region following Ferguson, the Heartland St. Louis Black Chamber of Commerce was founded in 2016. A region-wide effort was made to attract, create, organize, support and accelerate new and existing businesses on a platform that meets their needs for emerging growth. As an integrated systematic community ecosystem, HSBCC connects businesses with the resources necessary for them to scale. Today, the chamber supports its members through advocacy, networking, economic development, business education, technical support and capacity building to support our efforts to make Greater St. Louis an attractive place for all to live, work and play. HSBCC is “The First Stop for Everything Black Business.”

About Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis:
Incorporated on April 28, 1982, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis strives to promote the economic development of Hispanic-owned businesses and improve business opportunities for all in the St. Louis region. The Chamber fulfills this mission by increasing the competitiveness of its member businesses in local, state, and international markets. The Chamber is the cornerstone for the Hispanic business community, and looks to participate in present and future business developments of metropolitan St. Louis. For more information, visit

About Minority Business Development Agency Business Center St. Louis:
The Missouri MBDA Business Center located in St. Louis, MO is operated by the Chicago Minority Business Development Council, Incorporated. The Center is part of a national network of MBDA Business Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency. The Center works with minority business enterprises to generate increased financing and contract opportunities and to create and retain jobs. The mission of the center is to strengthen the US economy by helping ethnic minority businesses create or retain jobs, and build economically vibrant, socially responsible entrepreneurs, business, and communities.

About Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Inc. Women’s Business Center:
The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Inc. Women’s Business Center (formerly Grace Hill Women’s Business Center) was founded in 1999 as an economic development initiative within Grace Hill Settlement House. It is a public/private partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration and is dedicated to providing micro-business development for aspiring entrepreneurs, with a primary focus on minority women in the community. Partnering with other institutions and community organizations, the Center is able to offer a variety of programs and services to further individuals’ aims of entrepreneurship. The WBC offers comprehensive services to support all stages of entrepreneurship, 1:1 business counseling, where new business owners can vet their ideas, and seminars/speaker series.