Texas Business Hall of Fame Scholars Began With Bright Ideas in the Food Biz

Building new-venture experience through a food startup is a common denominator shared by UTD’s two 2021 Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation Scholar Award recipients.

Mercedes Johnson

Mercedes Johnson, a Naveen Jindal School of Management MBA student, dreamed up Food Magnet, an app that helps customers find food trucks and food trucks find business. Rohit K. Shenoy, an Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science 2021 BS in Computer Science graduate, was a co-founder of CampusOven, a catered meal delivery service that focused on bringing fresh, healthy dining alternatives to students

Rohit K. Shenoy 

In a video announcement of winners, Johnson and Shenoy were recognized as recipients of awards funded by the Mitchell Family Foundation. A 2011 Texas Business Hall of Fame inductee, Lee Roy Mitchell founded Plano, Texas-based Cinemark Theatres.

The winning news was announced by Gaurav Sethi, a Jindal School 2020 BS in Finance graduate who was chief financial officer of CampusOven. Sethi earned a Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation Scholar Award last year.

The awards, $15,000 apiece in unrestricted funds, are to be presented at the TBHFF Scholar and Veteran Award luncheon in Dallas on Oct. 28. Scholars also are invited to the Hotel Anatole that evening for the foundation’s annual Legends Induction Dinner, where distinguished members of the business community from throughout the state are to be honored for civic and professional achievements. Dallas-based inductees this year include Mark Cuban, entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks; Morton H. Meyerson, chair of 2M Companies and businessman for whom the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas is named; and Randall L. Stephenson, retired past CEO and chairman of AT&T.

Johnson, who works as a principal user experience designer at Capital One, earned a BS in electronic media and mass communication from Texas State University before earning a BA from UTD’s School of Arts, Technology and Emerging Communication in 2019.

Returning for her graduate degree, Johnson saw that the Professional MBA Evening Cohort program offered a concentration in innovation and entrepreneurship, and thought it might be what she was looking for. In taking an I&E accelerator course her first semester, she hit upon her Food Magnet idea.

“My goal is to be a ‘serialpreneur,’ ” says Johnson, who envisions eventually starting her own production company.

Shenoy came to UT Dallas as a McDermott Scholar. His freshman year, he became heavily involved with the Entrepreneurship Club and the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Blackstone LaunchPad. He took part in the CometX Accelerator program, interned at Tech Wildcatters, a startup accelerator in Dallas; and was a venture analyst in the UT Dallas Seed Fund. The CampusOven team was a finalist in 2020 Big Idea Competition.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic and the founding team’s college graduations brought CampusOven to a close, Shenoy has a stealth startup in the works, a data mining and analysis company.

In selecting scholars, the Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation looks for students interested in staying in the state. “From talking to venture capitalists in the area, I truly believe that Texas will continue growing rapidly and become a major center for entrepreneurial activity in the coming decade,” Shenoy says, “and I look forward to being a part of this movement.”

— Kristine A. Imherr