Alejandro Velez, BS 09, co-founder of Back to the Roots, a company that sells gourmet mushroom growing kits, was named social entrepreneur of the year by Hispanic-Net at the organization’s annual dinner on Oct. 13.
Velez co-founded Back to the Roots with classmate Nikhil Arora, also BS 09, after hearing Haas Lecturer Alan Ross speak on the potential to grow gourmet mushrooms on recycled coffee grounds and then trying the technique in the kitchen closet of Velez's fraternity house. The company has reused more than 1 million pounds of coffee grounds for its $19.95 kits, which have been featured by the New York Times, Sunset magazine, and Oprah.
Velez also is the founder and board chairman of The Sage Mentorship Project Inc., a 1,000+ member mentoring program that creates individual, one-on-one pairings between UC Berkeley mentors and low-income Berkeley and Oakland elementary school students.
Velez was born in Medellin, Colombia, and moved to the states with his mother and brother with just $5,000 in his mother’s pocket. He learned English in a small town in Michigan and after overcoming cancer (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) through four successful rounds of chemotherapy, he thrived in school and athletics, earning a spot on UC Berkeley’s Men’s Tennis Team.