Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez
Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez
Company : Back to the Roots
Age: 24 and 23

Urban farming hadn't been the plan for Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez. But during spring semester at UC Berkeley in 2009, the two discovered that leftover coffee grounds can be used instead of soil to grow gourmet mushrooms.

Turning down job offers in consultancy and investment banking, Arora and Velez spent the summer after graduation training themselves to be urban farmers via YouTube videos.

With a $5,000 social innovation grant from UC Berkeley's Chancellor, the two started Oakland-based Back to the Roots, a gourmet mushroom farm supplying restaurants and groceries.

In 2010, Back to the Roots expanded with grow-at-home mushroom kits, now available in 300 Whole Foods stores. Between the kits and farm, the company will repurpose one million pounds of coffee grounds by the end of the year.

"We're really trying to prove you can operate a successful, profitable business and still take care of your community, environment and stakeholders," said Velez.

Last updated July 07 2011: 10:37 AM ET
Join the Conversation

Running a successful small business is hard. But these 8 kid entrepreneurs are showing that it's just child's play. More

These women, made famous through modeling, show they have brains as well as beauty when it comes to entrepreneurship. More

Most Popular

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.