Archive for the ‘Nikhil Arora’ tag
Last night, on April 24, 2012, I attended a reception at the University of California Berkeley Clark Kerr Campus. The reception was held to announce the finalists for the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition. This event used to be called the Berkeley Business Plan Competition. I competed in the finals of this competition in its inaugural year, and have sponsored the competition every year since, including in 2012.
This year I was a mentor to semi-finalist team University Gateway, lead by Dorian Walden. I got to know Walden over four meetings, some of them stretching to 3 hours around my dining room table. Sadly, University Gateway did not progress to the finals, but it was easy for Walden to understand why.
Two teams I know personally were in the same judging category as University Gateway — Products and Services. University Gateway is an Internet company, but the track for Internet companies apparently was filled up already. This meant University Gateway was competing with companies that make and sell physical goods.
The teams I know that competed in the Products and Services track both were advanced to the finals. I was 99.9% confident that this would be the result, even though I knew nothing about the other competing teams. I was so confident because the teams I know are so strong, and I have been a judge for this competition for the past 8 years or so. I know from experience that teams this strong always make it to the finals.
I also know that teams this strong are very rare, so it was unlikely that the Products and Services track had any other teams so strong. I have never gone home from judging thinking that a third team from my judging track should have gone on to the finals.
University Gateway has a good idea, and I hope that Dorian Walder and Julian Riediger make their venture a success. The company is still in stealth mode, so I won’t tell you what they do yet.
The Products and Services teams that advanced to the finals are Modify and Back to the Roots. Both are unusual companies for this Berkeley competition.
Modify makes wrist watches that you can change easily to suit your tastes. The straps are made from silicone, similar to what silicone bake ware is made from. One can pop the time piece out of the strap/case in just a second, with no tools or special skills required. The straps are available in bright colors, and I describe them as chunky chic. The team from Modify are each wearing a Modfiy watch in the photograph I took at the top of this post. I am friends with Modify founder Aaron Schwartz. We see each other most months at the Haas Founders group I wrote about March 11, 2012.
Schwartz is a likeable and modest guy — only when researching this blog post did I discover he’s been profiled in a blog published by The New York Times newspaper. The New York Times is worth tens of millions of dollars less than photo sharing smart phone application Instagram, but I’d much prefer to be written about in a blog by The New York Times than in a blog by Instagram.
Back to the Roots makes and sells affordable oyster mushroom growing kits. I’ve written about Back to the Roots when I saw their CEO Nikhil Arora speak on a panel at a Food Startups Meetup run by my friend Matthew Wise, the co-founder of both Founderly and Tableslice. Back to the Roots has 20 full time employees, or so I was told when I interviewed a staff member at their booth at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show on March 24, 2012.
Back to the Roots has received lots of press coverage, including two minutes and forty seconds on the national CBS Evening News in the United States on March 15, 2012. The newscast says that Back to the Roots sells its products in over 1,000 stores and has 28 employees. Impressive.
Both Modify and Back to the Roots have businesses that are well along. Modify has sold _____ of thousands of watches to companies as well known as _____ and _____. [I'm waiting to hear from Schwartz to fill in the blanks in the last sentence. I know the values, but I want to verify the numbers and names I know are meant to be public information.] Back to the Roots sells its kits at Whole Foods Market and Home Depot. While Modfiy and Back to the Roots are still startups, they are making big strides and are companies to watch.
The reception was well attended and busy. I got to talk with my fellow judges from past years of this competition. I captured video. I took hundreds of pictures. I didn’t eat until the event was technically over. What I didn’t get to do, sadly, was interview the finalist teams that I didn’t know. If they are reading this and would like to be the subject of a future blog post, I invite them to contact me. I’ll meet you for coffee and you can give me your pitch and I’ll write about your venture.
Here is a list of the 2012 finalists for the Berkeley Startup Competition. The descriptive text that follows was provided by the teams themselves.
- Kloudless, Inc.
Kloudless is a free service that helps you manage all the things you put in the cloud. We enable users to search for, access, and manage their information that is spread across the Internet. We’re starting with email attachments, the black hole of cloud services, and will expand to other cloud services in the near future. Our solution addresses an increasingly large problem as more and more information moves into the cloud.
Traverie is an explorer focused startup that leverages the emotional, personal and inherently social aspects of travel discovery to make the process visual, fun and trustworthy. We bring structure to the current ad hoc and offline model of discovering and selecting destinations. We blend user-generated content, professional content and advertising to deliver a compelling user experience. Our founding team comprises a designer, engineer and product manager from MIT, Harvard and Berkeley-Haas, respectively.
AdrenaRx is a biopharmaceutical company focused on the prevention and treatment of heart failure due to toxicity from cancer chemotherapy. Each year, 1.6 million Americans are affected by cancer, and a third of these patients receive chemotherapy that can damage their heart. AdrenaRx has identified a new therapeutic target and a potent, selective drug that can protect the heart from damage by chemotherapy, and reduce a patient’s risk of developing heart failure after surviving cancer.
- Calcula Technologies
Calcula Technologies is developing a novel urological medical device for the removal of kidney stones outside of the operating room. Our patent pending technology will treat 4M patients/year in the US and EU. With clear FDA predicates and existing CPT reimbursement codes Calcula will be a major disruption in the field of Urology.
- Claro Energy
Claro Energy provides solar-powered water pumping solutions to meet irrigation needs of farmers in remote power-deficit agriculture areas in India where costly diesel generated power is the default choice. Claro Energy’s solar-powered pumps have near zero operating costs, are longer lasting and highly reliable when compared to dieselpowered pumps. In combination with sales, marketing and business development competencies, Claro Energy has also developed in-house integration and implementation expertise in remote rural regions of India.
- HARBO Technologies
During the first critical hours, oil-spills spread, split, and create escalating irreversible damage. HARBO develops the only emergency oil-spill containment solution for immediate response. HARBO’s Zero Time to Spill system is at standby position on-board oil-tankers/rigs and other ships and deploys a boom (floating barrier) within minutes to contain spills. HARBO’s advantage: Minimizing environmental damage, avoiding large containment/cleanup expenses, offering superb costefficiency and preventing a PR nightmare. “Containing oil-spills when they’re small, preventing big disasters.”
- Back to the Roots
Back to the Roots, started by two Haas Business School undergrads, promotes sustainability and zero-waste, while reconnecting people to food through its grow-at-home mushroom kit. Our gourmet mushroom kits are made with 100% recycled coffee grounds, and produce 2 pounds of fresh oyster mushrooms in just 10 days! People of all ages can actually grow and eat their own mushrooms all at home, a unique experience in today’s urban lifestyle.
Modify is a brand built on freedom of expression. Customizable for individual style, Modify’s interchangeable watches offer dope design for anyday wear. Available in two different sizes and over 250 combinations, Modify is a brand made for anyone—anytime, anyplace. A proponent of exceptional personalized service, we engage organizations and fans to help create (and name!) watches. Modify Watches are available for corporate gifting and licensing.
Here’s the handheld video I captured of the finalist teams learning of their advancement and collecting their certificates documenting their achievements. Andre Marquis, the Executive Director of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, delivers the opening remarks. John Steuart, Managing Director at Claremont Creek Ventures, comments on the judging process. Steuart’s firm is a financial sponsor of the competition, and Steuart is one of the judges.
Anthony Franco of Better Cater, pictured above, contacted me and asked me to link to his startup’s website. Sorry for the delay in creating the link — I just saw your Facebook message from April 25th a few minutes ago. Kevin — May 3, 2012 @ 12:47am.
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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