Mosaic Stories

    Cuong Dang

    “Entrepreneurship is not only about creating your own business and being your own boss; to be meaningful, you create a business that actually creates value and meaning in a society.”

    This mentality drove Cuong Dang, an immigrant entrepreneur from Vietnam, to start Enliven. As a digital technology firm, Enliven creates products to improve user experience and make people’s lives more enjoyable, thus creating meaning for clients in the St. Louis community and beyond. 

    Cuong arrived in the United States from Vietnam in 2002 with the mentality that he would complete his bachelor’s degree, and then pack his bags and move somewhere in Europe to live and work. Three years at Maryville University in St. Louis, however, changed his mind. 

    While he has not lived for thirteen years consecutively in St. Louis – living and working for portions of time on both the West Coast and East Coast, and studying abroad in England - St. Louis has kept calling him back home. After graduating from Maryville with a bachelor’s degree in international marketing and management, he got a job at a small technology firm in St. Louis. Cuong knew nothing about coding or user experience design, but he quickly acquired skills that have proven to be huge assets in his career field of digital technology. In addition to learning how to code, he learned a lot about user experience design and became involved heavily with an open source content management system, DNN software.

    After having worked for several companies and speaking at numerous conferences, Cuong wanted to
    capitalize on his entrepreneurial spirit and start a company focusing on technology that serves people, making user experience more enjoyable. “In my experiences, there are not a lot of companies doing that,” Cuong explains. “In the St. Louis scene, we lack that can't find a lot of user experience designers in the community.” So, Cuong decided to tap into this niche. Along with his friend Ian Robinson, the two of them quit their jobs, took a month off and traveled around Southeast Asia, and returned to St. Louis to co-found their company, Enliven. 

    Enliven means “to make things more lively and meaningful,” Cuong explains, “and we want to make software more fun and enjoyable.” While they started out doing sporadic consulting with the company’s inception in May 2012, Cuong and Ian started putting more thoughts and strategies into growing the business, channeling his passion for making people’s lives more enjoyable by virtue of making software more user-friendly. Since July 2013, Cuong has been focusing on growing Enliven as a digital technology firm not only from the consulting side, but also from a product company perspective, creating technology to improve the way people do business.

    As CEO, Cuong is involved with everything from business development to marketing to finances and operations. By virtue of starting a company, he has further engaged the community by creating jobs for local talent to join his team, and in addition to himself and Ian, they now have nine employees working on their Enliven team. Cuong loves being a part of this group of devoted individuals providing clients with innovative, enjoyable solutions to address their business problems.

    As a startup company in St. Louis, the opportunities and advantages of the city have helped Enliven achieve success. “There are a lot of things going on here for entrepreneurs, the startup community is vibrant and energetic” Cuong says. “It’s a great place to bootstrap a business. Many organizations are willing to give out grants, and there are opportunities to get investments.” In addition to the entrepreneurial advantages, the community of St. Louis itself is welcoming and supportive. In speaking about other advantages of living in St. Louis, “the cost of living is predictable and reasonable, there are lots of free parks and museums, and the food scene is great.”

    Cuong first heard about the St. Louis Mosaic Project from a college professor who connected him with Betsy Cohen, the Executive Director of the regional initiative. Cuong became interested in learning more about the project, and met with Betsy to learn more about how he could become involved. He is currently a Mosaic Ambassador, promoting the work of the Mosaic Project and helping foreign-born individuals acclimate to the St. Louis community. Thanks to the work of the Mosaic Project, Cuong feels that there are a lot more resources currently available and accessible to foreign-born people in the city. “The Mosaic Project is only a couple years old and there are already more activities and resources, and people are excited about helping others and developing St. Louis. When I came here, I wish I knew a lot of these things that I know now.”

    As a board member of the Asian American Chamber of Commerce, Cuong is further involved with helping immigrant communities. He helps promote minorities in American-owned businesses to become more successful. He plans to expand his realm of support, as he explains that he wants to “not only focus on folks from Asia and Asian-Americans, but to support all local small businesses.” Cuong’s drive to support fellow entrepreneurs in the St. Louis region fits with his philosophy of adding meaning and value to society.

    In recognition of Cuong’s impact in the St. Louis community, he received the Spirit of Maryville Young Alumni Award in April 2015. This award honors Maryville University alumni who give generously in support of programs and serve on leadership boards in the community.

    Through his work, Cuong envisions a bright future ahead of him. He aspires to open offices outside of St. Louis and Vietnam, in order to reach a wider variety of clients. He wants to be location independent, creating a successful business for which he and his team can work from anywhere and be connected with the technology that allows them to do so. Even though he wants to travel around, he says that “St. Louis will always be home.”

    Cuong also sees great potential and promise for the St. Louis region. “A lot of people have been motivated and excited in helping to build the St. Louis that we want, and I’m excited to be a part of that” he explains. “I want to do that too, whether with people from the U.S. or outside, to bring them here just like I want to bring them to Vietnam because I’m proud of my home country.” With the thriving startup technology scene and welcoming community, Cuong is excited for the future. “I’m excited to see St. Louis grow and get more press, more momentum, more people here, more money, more jobs... the energy of the younger millennials and generation z - they are all actually really excited, which makes a big difference,” he says. “It is exciting [for me] to be part of that.”