BTTR Ventures Wins Wal-Mart Regional Competition

BTTR Ventures, a gourmet mushroom company founded by alumni Nikhil Arora and Alex Velez, both BS 09, is proving fertile ground for awards as well as upscale produce.

On Feb. 19, a team of UC Berkeley undergraduates who are BTTR Ventures employees took first place in the western regional finals of the Wal-Mart Better Living Business Plan Challenge, which honors student entrepreneurship in environmental sustainability. This was the first time this competition was held at Cal. The team consisted of Rodrigo Lemes, BS 10; Bez Reyhan, BS 11; and Darshan Prasad, BS 11 (Econ).

The BTTR Ventures team and seven other regional finalists from around the country will compete April 22-23 at Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., for the $20,000 grand prize.

BTTR Ventures, short for “back to the roots,” turns more than 6,000 pounds of used Peet’s Coffee & Tea coffee grounds into oyster mushrooms, which it distributes to 30 Whole Foods Markets in Northern California. It also sells the Gourmet Garden Grow-it-at-Home Mushroom Kit at farmers markets and on its website.

Although a local venture, the company’s founders are looking to take BTTR to the next level. “Our expansion plan is to go deeper into the Bay Area with new product lines and to reach new clients,” says Arora.

The founders also want to expand their territory. “There’s demand for gourmet mushrooms across the nation, and this country is addicted to coffee, so there’s no shortage of coffee ground supplies,” Arora adds.

If the company’s success can be partially measured by the awards it has won, BTTR Ventures is well on its way. It has already won $5,000 in Berkeley’s 2009 Bears Breaking Boundaries and third place and $10,000 in the BBC and Newsweek’s World Challenge 2009. The founders were also among Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs in 2009.