Coffee might power red-eyed Americans at 7 a.m., but it’s the leftover waste of java grounds that is driving a young business venture in California.
Nikhil Arora (pictured at right, above) and his partner Alejandro Velez, both 22, are the founders of BTTR Ventures, an initiative in San Francisco that converts tons of America’s coffee ground waste into gourmet mushrooms. The company was nominated for Business Week’s America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs and BBC’s World Challenge competition (vote for them before the Nov. 13 deadline here).
The two Berkeley alumni were sitting in a business ethics course last December when a lecturer told the class about women in Colombia and Africa who were fighting malnutrition with used coffee. Thinking of America’s strong coffee habit, Velez and Arora decided to partner up and try out the idea themselves – starting off in a fraternity kitchen.
“We spent the last semester knee deep in coffee and experimenting to see if our idea would work,” Arora said.
They worked with Berkeley’s ecology department and received a $5000 grant from the social innovation department. Arora and Velez took their mushrooms door to door for feedback from friends, restaurants and food producers.
Arora was originally going to continue a consulting career before founding BTTR Ventures.
He said his family was surprised, but supportive. Arora’s older brother is also an entrepreneur who started an advertising web site, www.retargeter.com. But he said explaining a green startup to some of the Indian community, and his grandparents, was a little harder.
“I’ve always had this itch to do something of my own,” he said.
BTTR Venture is now supported by franchises such as Whole Foods and Peet’s Coffee & Tea.
The company is expanding their products to include shitake mushrooms and
gourmet home gardens that will harvest mushrooms multiple times. Arora said he
hopes to also increase the availability of their products to more people.
“That’s one of our biggest things – local fresh food movement has been tailored to wealthy and upper class people, but it should be something that’s open [to everyone].”
Commitment to society is a core principle of the venture. The team donates the used coffee grounds for compost, and helps support a gardening program for high school students.
Arora said he hopes the company will grow to include more social-minded projects and business ventures.
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