Vote Online for Alums’ Coffee Recycling Firm

Support Haas alumni Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez, both BS 09, by casting a vote for their startup BTTR Ventures, which sells mushrooms grown from coffee grounds and is a finalist in a BBC/Newsweek competition.

The pair's firm, BTTR Ventures (pronounced "Bette"r; stands for "Back to the Roots"), is one of 12 finalists in the World Challenge 09. Voting for the finalists begins today, Sept. 28, at The global competition seeks to identify and reward projects and businesses that bring economic, social, and environmental benefits to local communities through grass-roots solutions.

BBC World News will profile each of the finalists, including BTTR Ventures on Oct. 10.

Arora and Velez had their entrepreneurial "Aha!" moment that blossomed into BTTR Ventures when they learned in a Haas School business ethics class that women in Colombia and Africa used waste pulp from coffee plants to grow mushrooms.

A “closed-loop” uber-green business model that provided jobs and nutrition “was so cool,” says Arora. “We wondered if we could adapt it to coffee-addicted urban America.”

The pair did just that, thanks in part to a $5,000 prize from Berkeley’s 2009 Bears Breaking Boundaries Competition. BTTR Ventures now produces 500 pounds of shiitake and oyster mushrooms a week. Whole Foods Market buys the entire stock, selling the edibles for $8 to $12 a pound at Northern California stores. Peet’s and other local coffee houses donate grounds, keeping tons of waste out of the landfill. And post-harvest grounds rich in protein and nutrients are donated to local nonprofit urban farms for compost.

“Nikhil and I truly believe that doing business and doing good do not have to be separate philosophies,” Velez says. “We were enlightened by mushrooms.”

Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, both BS 09