An award recognizing women who are leaders in the North Texas business community has been presented to Naveen Jindal School of Management alumna Sejal Desai. Desai, MBA 1999, was recognized with a 2019 Women in Business Award from the Dallas Business Journal at an awards event Aug. 21 at the Fairmont Dallas hotel.
Desai is the business engagement director for the Communities Foundation of Texas for Business. The organization works with companies of all sizes and makes it easy for them to do good in the community in a way that is good for business. She was nominated for the award by a client, Kathy Hoke, a partner with The Shields Group.
Desai, who also received a master’s degree in liberal studies from Southern Methodist University, moved to Dallas from New Orleans in 1998 when her husband took a teaching position with SMU.
“We didn’t know anyone when we moved here,” she said. “The School of Management, as it was known then, at UT Dallas provided a platform for me to get to know people. The faculty took a keen interest in the students, and I personally benefited from that.”
Prior to coming to the United States, Desai served as a manager in the corporate advisory services division for Ernst & Young in Mumbai, India.
While attending JSOM, Desai ventured into technology. “A professor introduced me to some people who were starting a technology incubator in Richardson called STARTech,” she said. “At the time, I was in the U.S. on a dependent spouse visa and I couldn’t work, so I volunteered my time with them until I was allowed to work.”
Desai later served as co-founder and principal of STARTech Early Ventures, and CEO of its sister organization, STARTech Foundation. She also has served as principal at MHT Partners, a boutique investment bank based in Dallas, and co-founded and sold a hands-on science education business, Mad Science of Denton County.
“Every decade of my work life has been different,” she said. “I’ve continually reinvented myself.” She joined CFT in her early 40s to focus on corporate social responsibility. “I call it my midlife crisis gone well,” she said. “My clients are still businesses, but the conversations are different.”
While attending JSOM, she received scholarships that helped finance her education, and that moved her to establish the Desai Family Fellowship to offer similar opportunities to other students. She also has given her time to several programs and events at JSOM, including the Women’s Leadership Series. She co-hosted an event for a major UT Dallas fundraising effort, Realize the Vision: The Campaign for Tier One & Beyond.
Desai serves on the boards of Trusted World, talkSTEM, Hunger Busters and the North Texas Food Bank’s Indian American Council. She is co-founder of the Orchid Giving Circle at Texas Women’s Foundation and Be the Change Youth Giving Circle and founder of SevaYatra, a social venture offering short-term service project opportunities at non-governmental organizations in India.
— Glenda Vosburgh