Kevin Warnock

Entrepreneurship, ideas and more

Food Startups panel discussion at SOMA Central in San Francisco

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On Wednesday, November 16, 2011 I attended a fascinating panel discussion entitled Food Startups. To learn more about  Food Startups, follow @foodstartups on Twitter.

The panelists were:

The moderator was Wade Roush, Chief Correspondent at Xconomy and Editor of Xconomy San Francisco.

Networking hour at Food Startups event, November 16, 2011

Networking hour at Food Startups event, November 16, 2011

Food Startups was organized by my friend Matthew Wise, who invited me. Wise is a busy man — he’s running two startups – FounderLY and TableSlice.

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.

Alexa Andrzejewski, founder and CEO of Foodspotting.com, November 16, 2011

Alexa Andrzejewski, founder and CEO of Foodspotting.com, November 16, 2011

Wise gathered a panel that is the equal of panels I’ve seen at the MIT Venture Lab series held at Stanford University. In other words, simply outstanding.

I captured the entire panel discussion to video, and I have embedded it here.

Nate Gallon, partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Matthew Wise, Food Startups organizer, November 16, 2011

Nate Gallon, partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Matthew Wise, Food Startups organizer, November 16, 2011

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.

Matthew Wise, Food Startups organizer, and Wade Roush, Chief Correspondent at Xconomy and Editor of Xconomy San Francisco. November 16, 2011.

Matthew Wise, Food Startups organizer, and Wade Roush, Chief Correspondent at Xconomy and Editor of Xconomy San Francisco. November 16, 2011.

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.

Nikhil Arora, founder of Back to the Roots, November 16, 2011

Nikhil Arora, founder of Back to the Roots, November 16, 2011

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.

Ananda Neil, founder of Artisan Growers & Producers, November 16, 2011.

Ananda Neil, founder of Artisan Growers & Producers, November 16, 2011.

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.

Rajat Suri, founder and CEO of E la Carte, November 16, 2011.

Rajat Suri, founder and CEO of E la Carte, November 16, 2011.

Entrepreneurs are rewarded for being bold and outrageous.

Read about Justin Yoshimura of 500friends for another example.

Here’s what Steve Newcomb of Founder School says about Yoshimura:

“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.”

Rob Lafave, founder & CEO of Foodzie, November 16, 2011

Rob Lafave, founder & CEO of Foodzie, November 16, 2011

Another bold and outrageous entrepreneur sadly passed away recently, and this seems a fine place to focus additional attention on his remarkable life.

Andreas Sæbjørnsen, November 16, 2011.

Andreas Sæbjørnsen, November 16, 2011.

Andreas (Andy) Sæbjørnsen is the co-founder of the two startups Matthew Wise is working on, FounderLY and TableSlice.

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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One Response to 'Food Startups panel discussion at SOMA Central in San Francisco'

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  1. Awesome job documenting this event! Look forward to catching up with you at the next @FoodStartups event.

    Cheers,
    Matt

    Matthew

    21 Nov 11 at 8:04 pm

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