For the first time in Vator Splash history, we have a tie for the winner. The judges of the OakTown Tech Startup Competition—which was specifically held for East Bay startups—were split between Back to the Roots and Rockbot.
Back to the Roots is an Oakland-based startup that you might have already seen without even realizing it. Those little mushroom-growing kits you’ve seen at Whole Foods and elsewhere? Yep. That’s them. Founded by Berkeley students Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, Back to the Roots got started when the two heard you could grow gourmet mushrooms in pots of coffee grounds. So they tried it in their dorm room—and it worked. That gave them the idea to create a kit that would allow anyone to grow their own mushrooms at home, and it’s been featured on ABC’s The Chew and Martha Stewart. Additionally, the startup was recognized at the White House during last year's Empact Awards, and the co-founders have been awarded Inc’s 30 Under 30, Forbes 30 Under 30, and Businessweek’s Top 25 Social Entrepreneurs.
While the company’s flagship product allows you to grow 1.5 pounds of oyster mushrooms in 10 days, its follow-up product has been even more ambitious: the self-cleaning, food growing AquaFarm. If you’ve never heard of aquaponics, it’s a system in which you essentially replicate the natural environment of a living freshwater ecosystem. The AquaFarm is a fish tank that grows food. The fish poop in the water fertilizes the plants (whose roots grow directly into the water), while the plants clean the water.
The Mushroom Kit and AquaFarm are now in over 2500 retailers nationwide.
Back to the Roots was tied with Rockbot, another Oakland-based startup, which is disrupting the social music scene with an app that lets users select the music at a bar, restaurant, or other establishment. Users get to pick the songs playing at businesses that have Rockbot, vote on upcoming music to impact the order of what's played, share their plays on Facebook and Twitter with photos and tag friends, discover and download songs that are playing at the venue, sync favorite music from their device, Facebook, and Last.fm, and unlock rewards, enter giveaways, and view food and drink specials at the venue.
Meanwhile, businesses can customize and control the music selection (so you don’t have that one asshole that keeps playing “Free Bird” over and over again), and keep patrons around longer, as the average Rockbot user stays 27 minutes longer.
It’s the only out-of-home streaming solution that works across platforms to serve any size or type of business.
Rockbot is currently working with brands and enterprise chains such as Miller Lite, Buffalo Wild Wings, Burger King, JetBlue, Caesar's Entertainment, LuckyStrike, The Melt, as well as SMBs across the U.S. Rockbot is the #1 rated consumer jukebox app with ratings of 4.5 stars on both the iPhone App Store and Google Play.
Judges included angel investor JB (Mike) John-Baptiste, Base Ventures founder and director Erik Moore, Rick Moss of Better Ventures, Cindy Padnos of Illuminate, and Instructables.com founder Eric Wilhelm.
Photo credit: Hasain Rasheed Photography