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What It Does: Specialty mushroom grower
Founders: Nikhil Arora, 22 (right) and Alejandro Velez, 22 (left)
Web Site:
Based: Emeryville, Calif.

Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez got the idea for their for-profit social venture Bttrventures while taking a business ethics course at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business. A guest lecturer mentioned that people in East Africa used coffee grounds to grow mushrooms to fight malnutrition. "We both fell in love with the idea of using coffee waste and started doing research and brainstorming," says Arora. With a $5,000 social innovation grant from the university, the pair reached out to potential partners, researched mushroom-growing techniques, and tried to identify whether there was enough supply and demand to justify starting the company. They founded it in 2009. Its first partners include Peet's Coffee (PEET), which is providing used coffee grounds, and Whole Foods (WFMI), which agreed to purchase the outfit's mushrooms for 26 of its Bay Area stores.

Bttrventures now has five employees, grows 500 pounds of mushrooms a week, and is also planning to import mushrooms from Colombia. The founders estimate it will be profitable by this fall and bring in $200,000 in revenue by yearend. They say the company's social mission is also on track: It creates a healthy food source and needed jobs in urban areas, saves thousands of tons of valuable substrate from ending up in landfills, and donates 10% of profits back to the communities from which the coffee-ground waste originated.