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B-School Startup: Turning Coffee Grounds Into Food

Back to the Roots founders Alejandro Velez, left, and Nikhil Arora
Back to the Roots founders Alejandro Velez, left, and Nikhil AroraPhotograph by Spencer Brown

When two Berkeley college seniors attempted to make money by growing mushrooms at a fraternity house in 2009, they got airtime on several national talk shows. ”When anybody says you’re growing mushrooms at a fraternity … you’re bound to laugh,” Back to the Roots co-founder Alejandro Velez said on NBC’s Last Call with Carson Daly at the time.

Velez and business partner Nikhil Arora were growing oyster mushrooms, a gourmet variety commonly sautéed as a side dish, or used in stir frys—not psychedelic mushrooms, as was insinuated by the late night talk show attention.