Meet President & CEO Dr. Cheryl Watkins, MBA

Dr. Cheryl Watkins, MBA

YWCA Metro St. Louis President and CEO

Portrait of Dr. Cheryl Watkins MBA, Metro St. Louis President and CEO

Dr. Cheryl Watkins is a champion for women, an innovator, serial entrepreneur, and strategic leader with a proven track record of creating, managing and growing businesses in corporate, non-profit, and start-up environments.

Under her leadership, YWCA has earned accreditation as an Outstanding Provider by Social Current/Council on Accreditation, the National Program of Excellence Accreditation from the National Head Start Association, YWCA USA 2023 Association Excellence Award for Mission Impact in the field of Women’s Empowerment, and the 2024 Focus St. Louis What’s Right with the Region Award for Demonstrating Innovative Solutions. The agency is partnering with St. Louis Innovation Districts to support employee childcare and to solve for lack of early education in those neighborhoods) and has created a fast-track entrepreneurship program for clients. Since 2021, Dr. Watkins has increased the annual agency budget from $29 million to $35 million.

A physician by training with an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University), Dr. Watkins left medicine for business after developing an expertise in strategy, seeking opportunities to improve organizations’ market positioning, profitability, operational efficiency and excellence. Her medical training and business acumen has proven to be a profitable combination.

Early successes included being part of a leadership team that took a Swedish start-up from $60,000 to $60 million in five years, and leading and growing a $100 million division of Merck in a Vice President/General Management role.

Dr. Watkins joined BioSTL in 2013 as an entrepreneur-in-residence and mentor to start-ups in the region, while leading efforts to encourage women and minorities to develop STEM-focused businesses as Director, STEM Entrepreneurial Inclusion Initiative. This program was one of only 10 out of 500 applicants nationwide to receive funding in its pilot year from the Blackstone Foundation. And in its first five years, the program received 10 national best practice recognitions (including from the Obama White House) and resulted in 200 businesses assessed and eight companies founded that attracted $50 million in capital to our region. Her stellar leadership earned her the St. Louis Regional Chamber Arcus Award and LaunchCode’s Inaugural Moonshot Award.

Dr. Watkins served as Executive on Loan to Harris Stowe State University to help senior leadership develop HSSU as an Entrepreneurial Center of Excellence, focused on supporting, educating, developing, and scaling minority entrepreneurs in our region. She also served as an Adjunct Professor in entrepreneurship at Northwestern University Law School.

In 2022, St. Louis Magazine recognized her on its list of 100 People Shaping St. Louis. She was named one of St. Louis’ Most Influential Business Women, class of 2023, by the St. Louis Business Journal, and St. Louis Magazine again recognized her on its 2023 list of Women Who Make St. Louis Great. In 2024, she received the Colonel Clifton W. Gates Award for her valuable contributions as a Community Champion from the National African American Insurance Association St. Louis Chapter (NAAIA).

Dr. Watkins has lent her expertise to numerous organizations and non-profits in our region, including: Academy of Science St. Louis (Board of Trustees), Goldfarb School of Nursing (Board of Trustees), CORTEX (Board of Directors Inclusion Committee), Innovative Technology Education Fund (Board Member), The Magic House (Education Advisory Board Member), St. Louis Civic Pride Foundation (Board Member), WEPOWER Elevate/Elevar Accelerator (Advisory Board Member), Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (Advisory Board Member), Harris-Stowe State University (STEM Advisory Board Member), BALSA Foundation (Advisory Board Member).

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