Back to the Roots, an eco-friendly, for-profit organization, turns ordinary coffee grounds into succulent gourmet mushrooms. Created by two UC Berkeley alumni, Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora, this unique mushroom-growing company’s green entrepreneurs have pioneered social change by developing a growing process that is totally planet-friendly and sustainable.
Back to the Roots: Recycling Waste, Generating Sustainable Food
By converting a waste stream into a thriving, eco-friendly business, Back to the Roots showcases a clever new business model that reduces the amount of garbage destined for local landfills. Through their unique growing process, people are able to produce tasty oyster mushrooms, which helps meet increased consumer demand for fresh and local produce.
This is accomplished through their easy-to-use mushroom growing kits for home use that rely on coffee grounds as soil. Each kit is capable of growing oyster mushrooms year-round. To date, Back to the Roots has helped their customers to grow over 135,000 pounds of fresh mushrooms in an environmentally-responsible manner. Since these mushrooms require no packaging before being used (such as plastic wrap or cardboard), they reduce the amount of waste used by families who consume pearl oyster mushrooms as part of their daily diet.
The company collects, divests and reuses 3.6 million pounds of coffee grounds (via Peet’s Coffee & Tea) every year. By showing the value of reusing what is traditionally perceived as garbage, the Back to the Roots team is inspiring other entrepreneurs to develop intelligent waste management systems that benefit their companies and the planet.
To educate children and fellow community members, Back to the Roots donates their planet-friendly food growing and waste diversion/reuse products to ten urban school and community gardens. The profile of the company is rising due to its affiliation with one of the world’s premier health food emporiums, Whole Foods.
About these Entrepreneurs for a Change: Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora
Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora are UC Berkeley graduates and close friends. After developing a friendship during their classes, they brainstormed an idea whose time had definitely come. During their days in a UC Berkeley fraternity, they developed the prototype of their mushroom-growing kit, which garnered lots of positive attention from their professors. Encouraged by the response, they sought out a grant to prepare a commercial kit and business plan that led to their products being placed on the shelves of 300 Whole Foods Stores.
Today, these two entrepreneurs for a change continue to impress, and they’ve been recognized in the “30 under 30” list of important social entrepreneurs at Inc.com. In addition, Velez and Arora are TED fellows who have participated in TEDX conference panels on socially-responsible entrepreneurship.
Velez received the Chancellor’s 2009 Public Service Award and was also named the 2009 UC Berkeley Alumni Association Undergraduate of the Year. Arora is a summa cum laude graduate of UC Berkeley, from the Haas School of Business and Department of Political Science.
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