The panelists were:
- Rob LaFave, Founder and CEO of Foodzie
- Nikhil Arora, Founder of Back to the Roots
- Alexa Andrzejewski, Founder and CEO of Foodspotting
- Rajat Suri, Founder and CEO of E la Carte
- Nate Gallon, Partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, PC
- Ananda Neil, Founder of Artisan Growers and Producers
Wade Roush was the moderator.
Wade Roush was a staff member at MIT’s Technology Review (a very good magazine my father gave me a subscription to for my birthday on October 6th), serving multiple roles, including senior editor, San Francisco bureau chief and executive editor of the magazine’s TechnologyReview online presence. Roush was also the Boston bureau reporter for Science magazine and managing editor of supercomputer publications at NASA Ames Research Center. Roush graduated with honors in the history of science from Harvard University and earned a PhD in the history of science and technology from MIT.
I captured the entire panel discussion to video, and I have embedded it here.
Since the video is available, I will reserve my written remarks for the most entertaining highlights of the evening.
The most remarkable startup story was that of Nikhil Arora. Arora founded a food company that is brilliant. It’s called Back to the Roots. Their product is mostly recycled trash I presume they either get for free or are paid to take away. Sounds unappealing you say? It’s not. Back to the Roots gathers tons and tons of used coffee grounds from San Francisco Bay Area coffee shops and resells the grounds to consumers for about USD $8.00 a pound.
That’s not much less than the coffee cost before it was earlier flooded with hot water to make coffee.
The secret sauce is that Back to the Roots adds mycelia to the coffee grounds and then boxes up what others consider trash in attractive boxes that when opened form the container for the buyer’s mini mushroom farm.
The farm is started by opening the box and misting the grounds with water from a tiny 1 ounce spray bottle that’s included with the kit. After misting twice a day for 10 days, the first harvest is ready, and one box can be harvested multiple times until a pound and a half of oyster mushrooms have been picked. Then the unbleached cardboard box and the grounds can be recycled. Genius.
The founder is a Haas School of Business graduate that knew nothing about the food business when he started in 2009. His company now operates a 10,000 square foot warehouse and his mushroom growing kits are for sale at Whole Foods Markets and Home Depot. Those are two customers not frequently paired in the same sentence.
Arora had the approximately 50 people in attendance enthralled when he described an early sales visit to a Whole Foods Market grocery store. Without an appointment, he brought in a plastic bucket of used coffee grounds and somehow captured the attention of the rank-and-file worker (whoops… associate) he first walked up to. He was ushered in to meet with a manager and an order flowed from that bold move. I found it to be an inspiring and moving story.
This Food Startups event was sponsored by:
The stories of the other panelists were fascinating as well. Please watch the video. I’m sorry I don’t have the time to write detailed summaries of the other fine and worthy companies.
Entrepreneurs are rewarded for being bold and outrageous.
“I thought I had met some tenacious people in my life, but Justin is ridiculous. In some super weird, proud way, he reminds of some little mangy dog that bites your leg and just won’t let go. If Justin decides he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it, no matter how scrappy he needs to be to get the job done. Keep going you scrappy little dog… make us proud.”
Another bold and outrageous entrepreneur sadly passed away recently, and this seems a fine place to focus additional attention on his remarkable life.
I took all the pictures and video for this and posted the pictures at full 21 megapixel resolution. Click on the pictures to see the full size versions.
While I was researching Nikhil Arora for this post, I discovered his TEDx appearance where he talks about his urban mushroom farming enterprise Back to the Roots. I embed the video of the talk below, since I think it’s worth watching. Enjoy.
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