Business Owners "Yes, We're Open"

We live in a digital world.
Maryville is helping entrepreneurs thrive in it.

Maryville University’s Digital Development Project is designed to help tackle the widening digital skills and marketing gap among small-business owners of color in the St. Louis area.

The COVID-19 pandemic posed unexpected challenges for small businesses. Fed Small Business reported in 2021 that 57% of firms in the U.S. characterized their financial condition as “fair” or “poor” during the pandemic. But in underrepresented communities of color, this percentage increased dramatically.

Some owners were able to pivot online, while others struggled to obtain the digital expertise they needed to adapt to this new environment. But digital skills are crucial for modern businesses that want to keep pace with our changing economy. According to McKinsey & Company, U.S. e-commerce penetration is growing at lightning speed, jumping about 17 points in just three months from late 2019 through early 2020. That’s more growth than occurred in the previous 10 years combined.

That’s why Maryville is thrilled to announce the launch of the Digital Development Project. Together with our organizational partners, we are helping entrepreneurs of color in St. Louis develop new skills and navigate the demands of running a business online.


Asian-owned firms


Black-owned firms


Hispanic-owned firms

Percentage of minority-owned firms who reported “fair” or “poor” economic conditions following the pandemic

What is Maryville University’s Digital Development Project?

We offered 44 business owners in St. Louis free enrollment into the 10-week Maryville Digital Marketing Certificate Program powered by Pearson. Through this program, these entrepreneurs are connecting with a network of expert advisors and learning the fundamentals of e-commerce, digital marketing channels, analytics, measurement platforms, strategies, and tactics. Additionally, experts recommended by each organization are serving as business advisors, providing guidance on vital topics like e-commerce, acquiring loans, and business skills.

A special message from Dr. Mark Lombardi

Participating Partners

Maryville has partnered with six organizations to power this project:

Greater St. Louis Inc. Logo
Heartland St. Louis Black Chamber of Commerce Logo
Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Logo
Minority Business Development Agency - U.S. Department of Commerce Logo
Pearson Logo
Urban League of Metropolitan Saint Louis, Inc. - Women's Business Center logo and SBA: Small Business Association logo. Funded in joint through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Association.

Trailblazers and difference-makers: the business owners

Our five nonprofit partners have selected 44 St. Louis small business owners of color to join the program. These entrepreneurs operate in industries ranging from healthcare and human resources to business and marketing.

Get to know some of our featured businesses:

Charlene Lopez Young and Family of The Fattened Caf

The Fattened Caf

Charlene Lopez Young, South City, St. Louis, Missouri

When Charlene Lopez Young moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis, she brought her Filipino cuisine and culture with her. She and her husband, Darren, proudly run The Fattened Caf, a Filipino BBQ pop-up that was named a Rising Star for 2021 by Feast magazine.

Read more

Muse STEAM Citywide Owner, Vanessa Renae Hopkins

Muse STEAM Citywide

Vanessa Renae Hopkins, Florissant, Missouri

At Muse STEAM Citywide, the “A” stands for “advocacy.” This educational organization’s mission is to help students build agency through art projects, enhanced social-emotional learning, increased reading proficiency, and STEAM education.

Read more

Dean Diaries CEO, Sierra Dean

Dean Diaries Publishing

Sierra Dean, Clayton, Missouri

Dean Diaries Publishing was established on the premise that writing, journaling, and poetry can be therapeutic, helping people better express themselves as they progress and grow emotionally. Through Dean Diaries Publishing, Sierra Dean holds children’s workshops, visits domestic violence shelters, and works with people in the St. Louis community to help build communication and emotional wellness.

Read more

Good Vibes Roadside Owner, Cynthia Johnson and husband

Good Vibes Roadside

Cynthia Johnson, Carlyle, Illinois

It’s always a rough day when you have car trouble. At Good Vibes Roadside, Cynthia Johnson and her husband help turn those bad situations back around by meeting your roadside needs with friendly support and excellent, affordable services. Within the next two years, they hope to grow their business and incorporate towing and educational classes.

Read more

Side-by-side supporters: The network of advisors

Along with passion, a reliable team of supporters can make all the difference for small-business owners. We connected participants with a network of specialty advisors who were able to offer insight on topics like e-commerce, human resources, mental wellness, leadership, and financial funding.

These industry experts shared their personal experiences and gave practical advice to complement our Digital Marketing Certificate Program. They helped the entrepreneurs learn new ways to grow their ventures and extend their networks.

David Noble

David Noble

Market President and Director of Community Economic Development, Midland States Bank

Dustin York

Dustin York

Associate Professor of Communication at Maryville University

Erika Rasure

Erika Rasure

Assistant Professor of Business & Financial Services at Maryville University

Judy Ryan

Judy Ryan

CEO, LifeWork Systems | TV Show Host of Evolve Now!

Kristen Kellogg

Kristen Kellogg

Founder & Creative Director, Border Free Media

Ricardo Martinez

Ricardo Martinez

Owner and Lead Web Developer, CentralJA

Trecia Davis

Trecia K. Davis, MSW, LCSW

Chief Executive Officer & Lead Therapist, Equal Shares Parenting, LLC & Super Social Workers, LLC

Lakesha Mathis

Program Director of Inclusive Business Solutions at Greater STL Inc.

Veta Jeffery

Founder of the Heartland St. Louis Black Chamber of Commerce

“In partnership with five community advocacy organizations, Maryville University is leveraging its legacy of helping people rapidly acquire new knowledge and skills through online learning. We are honored to serve and support small businesses in the St. Louis region and beyond.”

— Dr. Mark Lombardi, President of Maryville University

“As a St. Louis native, I’m proud to be a part of a program that directly benefits the community and provides economic empowerment to underserved small-business owners.”

— Laraine Davis, Vice President of Community and Government Relations at Maryville University

A special message from Laraine Davis

Maryville University Campus

Learners’ goals. Our purpose.

For nearly 150 years, Maryville University has offered nationally recognized educational experiences with a student-first focus and commitment to innovation. But we don’t rest on our history. We’re continually focused on the future — especially helping you reach your personal and professional goals.

That’s our aim with the Digital Development Project. It’s part of our workforce development initiative, designed to help professionals quickly reskill and upskill so they can take advantage of the demand-driven careers of today and tomorrow.

Our online programs help level the playing field and make high-quality college education accessible for everyone. In fact, it’s our specialty. That’s why 96% of our online bachelor’s graduates have a job or enroll in advanced education programs within six months of graduating.

Maryville’s online certificates can help you gain the real-world experience to fulfill your potential — because we measure our success by yours. Take the next step and discover your personalized path to a high-quality education today.

See how Maryville can help.

Read the full Digital Development Project announcement

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