Back to the Roots was founded in 2009 by college seniors Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora after discovering how to grow gourmet mushrooms on recycled coffee grounds. Since then, Back to the Roots has evolved from urban mushroom farming to a thriving business on a mission to Undo Food™ and reconnect families to it through fun, innovative, and delicious Ready to Grow and Ready to Eat products (Organic Mushroom Farm, Water Garden, Garden-in-a-Can, Garden-in-a-Jar, Organic Self-Watering Planter, and Organic Stoneground Flakes). Back to the Roots currently sells its products in over 14,000 stores worldwide, including Whole Foods Market, Target, Costco, The Home Depot, Nordstrom, Petco, Cost Plus World Market, Loblaw, Giant Eagle, Wegmans, The Fresh Market, Crate & Barrel, Urban Outfitters, Safeway, and Kroger.
Alejandro Velez was born in Medellin, Colombia and moved to the U.S. in 1998 at the age of 11 with his mom and older brother. Alejandro was just fifteen when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer but battled the disease which has now been in remission for twelve years. Alejandro founded the Sage Mentorship Project during his sophomore year of college at UC Berkeley. Sage is a 1,000+ member non-profit that is the largest college mentoring program in California. The program matches student mentors with elementary school-aged mentees to foster life skills and personal growth. Alejandro graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business with a degree in business administration and a minor in education.
Nikhil Arora grew up in Irvine, CA, and as a first generation Indian-American, spent significant time each year traveling back to India to visit family. He credits much of his interest in sustainability, environmentalism, and undoing food to his family and these childhood trips. During college at UC Berkeley, Nikhil spent six months in West Africa studying at the University of Ghana researching how to best implement a profitable on-campus recycling program. Nikhil graduated summa cum laude with degrees in political science and business administration from the UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of The Sage Mentorship Project, and the Diversity Council for the Specialty Food Association. Nikhil formerly served on the Board of Directors for the Social Venture Network.
Nikhil and Alejandro have been honored with several awards recognizing their efforts in sustainability and entrepreneurship including BusinessWeek’s “Top 25 Entrepreneurs under 25,” Inc.’s “30 Under 30,” Inc. 500, Forbes’ “30 Under 30,” and CNN’s “10 Next Entrepreneurs to Watch.” In addition, Back to the Roots was named a 2013 Martha Stewart Top Ten American Made honoree and recognized by President Obama as Champions of Change.