The Mavs Business Assist program launched at the start of the 2022-23 basketball season to support 100 diverse entrepreneurs and small business owners who call North Texas home.
The Dallas Mavericks have partnered with The Lonely Entrepreneur to empower those in the program with access to the knowledge, tools, and support they need to succeed as part of the Mavs Business Assist (MBA) program.
Here at the Mavs, we also believe in the power of storytelling, and it’s our honor to showcase various MBA members throughout the year to highlight their extraordinary accomplishments.
Every entrepreneur has a story to tell. This is especially true for minority and woman-owned businesses, who often have to jump through even more hurdles to see their business succeed. The Dallas Mavs are excited to amplify the voices of various minority entrepreneurs in the inaugural class of the Mavs Business Assist program.
ABOUT FOOD MAGNET:
Food Magnet was founded in Dallas, Texas, to help food truck owners find new business and customers. The pandemic shut down most of the events that food trucks participated in and made finding business difficult. Food Magnet connects trucks to local neighborhoods, offices and more who need a food truck for an upcoming event. Food Magnet also helps foodies locate, follow, and receive promotions from their favorite trucks inside the mobile app.
Mercedes Johnson is a graduate student at the Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas, and she’s working towards her MBA focused on entrepreneurship and innovation.
By day, she’s a principal UX (user experience) designer at Capital One, and by night (and weekends and any other time), she’s the founder and CEO of Food Magnet app.
Food Magnet is a multi-sided marketplace mobile application that helps food trucks book events, manage permits, market to customers and more. Food Magnet empowers food enthusiasts to find, book and interact with their favorite food trucks.
Johnson received the 2021 Texas Business Hall of Fame award and was a finalist in the 2021 Big Idea Competition. She holds two bachelor’s degrees and originally planned to be a news reporter. However, she soon recognized that she naturally gravitated towards business endeavors, and her unique designer skillset fast-tracked her on the road to success. Johnson planned to climb the corporate ladder.
Then one day, her future came calling.
Johnson joined the CometX program – a turbocharged innovation program that puts student entrepreneurs on a fast track to success. The students are incubated in an environment that prepares them to launch a new business concept. Johnson thought she’d get to build out a business in the program. Instead, they wanted her idea within a week.
A short time later, Food Magnet was born.
When I sat down with Johnson at the first Mavs Business Assist cohort, her infectious spirit and positive attitude was apparent. I was sold just listening to her vision and passion. Still, as she later shared, the ups and downs of starting a business, going to school and working full-time can make one weary. That’s why the support of the Dallas Mavericks and Mavs Business Assist is important for Johnson and other entrepreneurs.
The native of California said Food Magnet came from researching the problems food-truck businesses face. She started by cold-calling food truck owners in the area. She wanted to know about their companies.
Soon Johnson realized there was a much greater need on hand. Many of the food truck business owners she talked with were immigrants who struggled with the back end of marketing and business. The pandemic also highlighted a glaring need in the food truck industry. While restaurants relied on food delivery apps, food trucks struggled to alert their consumers where to find them and when.
As a designer, Johnson got to work on the technical solution. Right away she knew this could work, she just needed the funds, support and a business plan to launch the business full steam ahead.
Food Magnet is right on the cusp of entering the public market at the start of 2023.
“When I started my MBA, that’s when I fell upon entrepreneurship,” Johnson said. “After exploring the program, I was like, ‘holy cow, this is the same thing I’m already doing every day.’ So I thought, ‘okay, let’s do this,’ and the rest is history.”
Johnson works full-time, goes to school, teaches workshops, and finds time to join cohorts like the Dallas Mavericks. There’s little time to do anything else, but she understands that’s the nature of the business. She’s confident lives will be impacted through Food Magnet and she’s driven by the desire to help others.
Mavs.com sat down with Johnson to learn more about her extraordinary story.
Johnson: We are getting ready to go to market in January publicly. Food Magnet is a double-sided marketplace very similar to Uber. Where there’s the rider side and driver side. What we do is the same concept, but with food trucks. So, you can hunt down your favorite food truck, you can book them for special events and find discount deals when they have lunch specials. That will be available on the consumer side.
On the food truck side, we’re going to be more of an end-to-end business solution, helping them run their business. Many truck owners and drivers are immigrants; sometimes, English is not their first language. Many of them did not grow up with a strong business background. So that’s where I’m able to come in and leverage my background in business and apply it in the application to help them track all the critical metrics they need to know. We are going to make it super easy. We’ll help them with marketing, permitting, staffing and source events on their behalf. It’s our goal to help them scale their business by putting all the resources at their fingertips in one spot. I truly believe we’ll be able to change lives.”
Johnson: Sometimes it’s hard for me to work with investors because they expect the founder to be full-time on the startup, but I must sustain my own living. I’ve met some entrepreneurs that can leverage their families or lean on partners to help them. In my case, it’s just me.
The challenge I face is how I can sustain a living and keep a roof over my head while also following my dream. I’ve had to get creative and find other ways to get those funds. Luckily, I’m a strong public speaker and have been able to win multiple pitch competitions. But these networking events are extremely important to me and other minorities because that’s how I’m able to meet others who might be able to help me. After all, they are facing the same challenges.
This is also how I’m able to share more about my company. I can let others know I’m coming and put a face to the name. So, once they see the company next year, they can connect a face to the name. This program is essential because everyone in this room has similar mindsets and challenges.
I’m looking forward to learning about everyone’s business and sharing our support of one another. One-on-one networking and having the opportunity to meet each other is key. These events are not only important to escalate my business, but they help us all to navigate through this entrepreneurial journey with other minority business owners.
Johnson: I wish people knew more about what the entrepreneur’s life is really like. Companies and organizations often focus on the business side, which I know is important. It’s essential to have a strong team behind you, sure.
But I think it’s more interesting to know what a founder does when they don’t have a strong team. How do they manage the workload, and how do they execute despite not having the resources? The human-interest factor is lacking because startups are complex, but you can’t read about grit on paper. You only know what an entrepreneur is capable of after hearing their story. In my opinion, the story of an entrepreneur is important, and they usually never get the opportunity to share it. I’ve carried the whole company on my back and sometimes was alone, but I am determined to persevere.
What’s interesting is that I’ve actually met Mark Cuban! I met Mark a year ago and am now at an event through his organization. I mean, what are the odds? I even discovered we have a few mutual connections as well. Dallas isn’t as big as it seems. We were both inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame together last year. I got inducted as a scholar representing UT Dallas, and him as a legend. I’ll get there one day.
The entrepreneurial journey is not linear, but the dots are all connecting. It’s been a long journey; there are definitely ups and downs.
For those nights when I feel like I’m out here alone, opportunities like the Mavs Business Assist recharge me. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to come here and meet others who live the same reality as me.
I’m looking forward to all the different resources that will come out of this program. I think in my position, any and all help is wanted. I’m here with an open mind. I’m wondering how can I be helpful to others and give back some of my knowledge?
And two, how can I make the most of this event and grow from it? I’m not looking for anything specific, but I’m prepared to help in any way possible. I’m really excited to be here. I came from a user experience design workshop at UT Dallas, where I was guest-speaking for my profession.
People often ask me, “how did you come up with Food Magnet?” I tell them: “I’m just a really strong designer. I know how to research, listen to my customers, and design solutions.”
Johnson: I would go up against Uber Eats and Amazon’s Whole Foods. The dream and evolution of Food Magnet is strategic. We aspire to eventually compete with those companies, but we have a niche with food trucks. Phase two will involve restaurants and some real estate, but we plan to fly under the radar until we gain enough traction to become dangerous. Let’s just say there is a method to the madness.
Congratulations, Mercedes, on all your endeavors! To learn more about Food Magnet, click here.