Mavs Business Assist program creates ‘opportunity’ for 100 diverse entrepreneurs

Whether it’s basketball or business, success requires repetition. It requires discipline to show up even if you’re the only one working towards a goal. Success requires the fortitude to push through adversity and trials to chase after destiny. Perhaps no one understands this more than Mercedes Johnson of Dallas. She […]

Whether it’s basketball or business, success requires repetition. It requires discipline to show up even if you’re the only one working towards a goal. Success requires the fortitude to push through adversity and trials to chase after destiny.

Perhaps no one understands this more than Mercedes Johnson of Dallas. She is on a mission to launch her new business and create change in her sphere of influence.

So is Keith Fluellen. Erin Prather Stafford, too.

They are among 100 diverse entrepreneurs selected to join the first Dallas Mavericks Business Assist (MBA) program that officially launched last month.

The Mavs partnered with The Lonely Entrepreneur to empower the applicants with “access to knowledge, tools and support they need to succeed.”

Selected applicants gain one year of free access to The Lonely Entrepreneur Learning Community. They will also sit alongside other small business owners at four cohorts throughout the year.

The idea is to build and foster relationships with each other and receive the backing of an NBA franchise.

The Mavs Business Assist is run by a department within the organization called Mavs Take ACTION!

In the summer of 2020, the Mavs created the initiative to address and help alleviate systemic inequities that create disadvantaged communities. The acronym stands for advocacy, communication, training, investment, outreach and noise—because the team isn’t going to remain silent.

The initiative deals explicitly with the underlying racial component of inequity concerning education, employment, housing, foster care and countless other issues.

Mavs Business Assist is still in its infancy, but it’s an exciting new space for the franchise’s future.


Participants arrived at the Dallas Regional Chamber in mid-September for the inaugural Mavs Business Assist event. They were armed with enthusiasm, excitement, and plenty of new business ideas.

The Dallas Mavs, along with various North Texas area Chamber of Commerce organizations, selected the finalists based on their entrepreneurial journey, the mission of their business and other tangible goals they hope to accomplish.

Mercedes Johnson has worked tirelessly to bring her new business — Food Magnet — to life.

She’s won numerous pitch competitions and was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame along with Dallas Mavs governor Mark Cuban last year. She was a scholar; Cuban was honored as a Dallas-business legend.

After Johnson earned her undergraduate degree, she returned to UTD and entered a graduate program concentrating on innovation and entrepreneurship.

That’s when her idea for Food Magnet was born.

“We are getting ready to publicly go to market in January,” Johnson said. “Food Magnet is a double-sided marketplace similar to Uber with the rider and driver sides. What we do is the same concept, but with food trucks. So, you can hunt down your favorite food truck, book them for special events and find discount deals when they have lunch specials. That will be available on the consumer side. We will be more of an end-to-end business solution on the food truck side, helping them run their business.”

Johnson said she’s finishing the final touches on the backend development, an area she feels exceptionally skilled. As a Black woman, she faces other challenges daily, like trying to keep a roof over her head.

“For those nights when I feel like I’m out here alone, it’s opportunities like the Mavs Business Assist that recharge me,” she added. “I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to come here and meet others who live the same reality as me.”

Keith Fluellen understands the peaks and valleys of owning a business, too.

His company, Fluellen Cupcakes, is flourishing in the heart of downtown Dallas. People in the Mavs’ organization promise up and down that Fluellen makes the best treats in the entire state.

Fluellen only uses the finest quality ingredients to bake fresh cupcakes daily.

Life was good and business was booming until a couple years ago.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic halted everything. A short time later, the winter storm that thrashed Dallas back in 2021 caused catastrophic damage to Fluellen Cupcakes. Customers and residents came together and donated money to get the doors back open at the Dallas store.

It caused Fluellen to look at his business model in a whole new way. He’s a baker, sure, but as a business owner, he had to shift his mindset to stay afloat.

Fluellen Cupcakes in Dallas has since rebounded, thanks to local citizens and businesses devoted to his cupcakes.

The company already has a large following in-store and on social media, but Keith decided to join the Mavs Business Assist to foster a relationship with the franchise and learn from others.

He also has a ton of wisdom to teach new small business owners, and he understands that support is essential for everyone.

Perhaps that’s what makes the MBA program so unique. Every applicant is at a different stage of their life. Some, like Johnson, are just getting started; others, like Fluellen, have been in the game for a long time.

They are diverse yet unified, with a mission to better the lives of the people they serve and work alongside daily.

Fluellen is even on the hunt for a baker and decorator right now, so he’s also creating jobs to help sustain the local community.


The Mavs Business Assist program is the brainchild of Theodore “Teddy” Graves, who serves as the corporate social responsibility manager with the Dallas Mavericks.

The Princeton graduate delivered a riveting message at the MBA launch event that hit home with many entrepreneurs who related to his personal story. Humanity unites people, and the audience connected with Graves’ story about his grandfather, who launched the world-renowned magazine Black Enterprise.

The company has evolved into a media empire thanks to the vision of the late Earl G. Graves Sr.

“The purpose of Black Enterprise was to provide a platform for African American empowerment,” Teddy Graves told the MBA audience.

“Similar to Black Enterprise, Mavs Business Assist has a clear mission to show the world that excellence and minority-owned businesses are one and the same,” he explained. “Historically speaking, opportunity isn’t elusive to minority entrepreneurs, and my grandfather was no different…it was from his opportunity that he was able to fulfill his ambition. This program is to help your whys — whatever that may be — come to fruition. I want to challenge everyone to a seemingly simple task: believe in yourself. Mavs Business Assist does not guarantee success. Mavs Business Assist guarantees an opportunity.”

So, what is the opportunity the Mavs hope to give the entrepreneurs through this program? A sense of community.

Johnson pointed out that many times entrepreneurs, like her, are on their own and work in near solitude. So the community and networking aspect is important and the program will offer MBA members a chance to meet others with similar backgrounds and lifestyles.

“Each session will begin with a networking opportunity, which will give them the chance to mingle,” said Sean Reed, senior manager of Mavs Take ACTION! “Also, each session will allow 3–5 entrepreneurs to give a one-minute elevator pitch. The entrepreneurs will primarily interact through the ‘Learning Community’ which is through the Lonely Entrepreneurs’ platform.”

He said the applicants will be asked to complete specific modules and templates before each session and will be given benchmarks.

“The opportunity for the entrepreneurs to interact with one another will be in the Learning Community,” Reed explained.

Reed said there will be eight finalists selected for the end-of-the-season pitch contest. They will need to attend three cohort sessions, be in the top 25 percentile for completed modules, attend four group coaching sessions, submit a business plan and create an elevator pitch. They also need to have a business bank account established.

Dermer: ‘Entrepreneurism is not a job; it’s an identity’

Dallas Mavericks legend Rolando Blackman spoke at the MBA launch event, along with Dallas Mavericks Chief Impact Officer Katie Edwards. The Lonely Entrepreneur CEO and founder Michael Dermer served as the keynote speaker.

“Entrepreneurism is not a job; it’s an identity,” said Dermer. “It’s a way that we realize our potential. It’s the way we turn our passions into success. It’s the way we live more fulfilling lives. If someone says, ‘why are you working on Columbus Day?’ They’re not entrepreneurs. The point is I’m one of you. Like Teddy, this is very deeply rooted for me.”

Dermer is an entrepreneur, speaker, lawyer and founder/author of The Lonely Entrepreneur.

The Lonely Entrepreneur was born from Dermer’s harrowing experience in the 2008 financial crisis. He watched the business he built for 10 years to over 500 employees – the first company in the US to reward for healthy behavior – nearly get destroyed in 10 days by the financial crisis of 2008. He not only survived but went on to sell his company and become an industry pioneer. Now Dermer and The Lonely Entrepreneur team are committed to helping entrepreneurs learn from his experience and turn their passion into success.

Dermer told the audience about a new program at The Lonely Entrepreneur called the Black Entrepreneur Initiative.

“We are able to offer the platform for free, thanks to great partners like the Dallas Mavericks and others,” he said.

According to the website, more than ever, Black businesses need our help as nearly 50 percent are destined to close because of COVID-19, and many Black Americans are becoming entrepreneurs as a matter of necessity. The program says, “we can’t change social justice overnight, but with your help, we can impact Black economic justice by empowering current and aspiring Black entrepreneurs today.”

The Lonely Entrepreneur also has The Hispanic Entrepreneur Initiative. The goal is to “empower one million entrepreneurs to turn their passion into success.”

The MBA applicants will meet three more times this year, and the program will culminate in a pitch competition in front of a panel of VIP judges.


All the Mavs Business Assist executives agree that the applicants are really the superstars here. They deserve the spotlight for their tremendous perseverance, patience, and diligence in bringing their businesses to life.

Small business owner Erin Prather Stafford understands the impact of powerful stories. She runs a program called “Girls That Create” and teaches others how to tell a story to ignite change.

She’s an award-winning writer and content creator and leads workshops to close the funding gap for women-owned businesses. When we met Stafford at the first Mavs Business Assist event, she came alive when talking about her business.

Stafford is passionate about “Girls That Create” and loves to help parents raise creative girls. She knows that female representation matters in arts and communications.

Before founding Girls That Create, she was the executive producer of the award-winning documentary WONDER WOMEN! THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUPERHEROINES. The film had its national broadcast on PBS and traced the fascinating evolution and legacy of Wonder Woman. It also examines the portrayal of powerful women in mass media and why representation matters.

Her story, along with Johnson and Fluellen, weaves an exciting portrait of many new businesses right on the cusp of breakthrough.

There are 97 other dynamic stories just like theirs.

Several entrepreneurs in the program said they need hope, encouragement and support more than anything else.

“I wish people knew more about what the entrepreneur’s life is really like,” said Johnson. “The human-interest factor is lacking because start-ups are hard, but you can’t read about grit on paper. You only know what an entrepreneur is capable of after hearing their story. The story of an entrepreneur, in my opinion, 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.”

As an NBA franchise, the Mavericks recognize what a vibrant community we are honored to live, play, and work in daily. There are so many diverse and talented individuals, and the Mavs Business Assist program reminds us how together we are stronger.

This is just the beginning.

Perhaps in January, we will all stand alongside Johnson to celebrate the public launch of Food Magnet.

“This program is important because everyone in this room has similar mindsets and challenges,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to learning about everyone’s business and sharing our support of one another.”

Related: Mavs Business Assist Q&A – Meet Mercedes Johnson


Story: Tamara Jolee, Dallas Mavs
Photojournalist: Roberto Hernandez, Dallas Mavs


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