Judges were split between these two rockin' Oakland-based startups
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
Related Companies, Investors, and Entrepreneurs
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Back to the Roots is an Oakland-based startup developing products that connect families with their food. Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez founded it straight out of college in 2009 after they learned in a business ethics class at UC Berkeley that gourmet mushrooms could be grown from recycled coffee grounds. Inspired, they turned down their finance and consulting job offers to become full-time urban mushroom farmers. BTTR has since grown to distribute two award-winning products, the Mushroom Kit and AquaFarm, in over 2500 retailers nationwide. The Mushroom Kit is a small brown box that grows up to 1.5 lbs of oyster mushrooms in 10 days, and the AquaFarm is a self-cleaning fish tank that also grows food! BTTR 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.
More about Back to the Roots:
More about Alejandro Velez:
Alejandro Velez co-founded Back to the Roots in 2009 as a senior at UC Berkeley, giving up a potential career in investment banking to become an urban mushroom farmer. Alejandro oversees the sales and finance half of the business, and with his co-founder, Nikhil Arora, has led the company to triple digit annual growth.
Alejandro also founded the Sage Mentorship Project, a 1000+ member non-profit that is the largest student-run organization at UC Berkeley. He has been named one of BusinessWeek's Top 25 Entrepreneurs under 25, BusinessWeek's Top 25 Social Entrepreneurs in America, 2010 Social Venture Network Social Innovation winners, 2010 20 Influential Hispanics Under 40, and 2010 Hitachi Young Entrepreneur Winners.
Alex graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business with a degree in business administration and a minor in education. He is originally from Medellin, Colombia and is also a proud Hodgkin's Lymphoma cancer survivor.
More about Nikhil Arora:
Nikhil Arora co-founded Back to the Roots in 2009 as a senior at UC Berkeley and gave up a potential career in consulting to become an urban mushroom farmer. Nikhil oversees the marketing, product development, and operations half of the business, and with his co-founder, Alejandro Velez, has led the company to triple digit annual growth over four years.
Since co-founding BTTR, Nikhil has been named one of BusinessWeek’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs under 25, Top 25 Social Entrepreneurs in America, UCLA’s Opportunity Green Top 25 Green Company Leaders, 2010 Social Venture Network Social Innovation winners, and 2010 Hitachi Young Entrepreneur Winners. Nikhil is currently on the Board of Directors of the Sage Mentorship Project and Social Venture Network.
Nikhil graduated summa cum laude from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business during which he spent 6 months in Africa creating a profitable recycling program for the University of Ghana.
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Rockbot disrupts traditional out-of-home music services ($2bn industry) such as Muzak and the jukebox at restaurants, bars and businesses by combining custom streaming music and a jukebox app that lets customers engage from their smartphones.
Consumers get to:
- Pick the songs playing at businesses that have Rockbot
- Vote on upcoming music to impact the order of what's played
- Share your plays on Facebook & Twitter with photos and tag friends
- Discover and download songs that are playing at the venue
- Sync favorite music from your device, Facebook, and Last.fm
- Unlock rewards, enter giveaways, and view food & drink specials at the venue
Businesses get to:
- Easily customize and control the vibe of their locations
- Access 4 times more variety than existing solutions with over 13 million songs and over 500 playlists
- Engage their customers with an exciting mobile app experience
- Increase dwell time (avg. Rockbot user stays 27 mins longer) and check-ins (Rockbot drives 4x more check-ins per location than Foursquare)
- Set playlists to automatically change by time of day or day of week, and assign admin access to managers and staff
- Increase their brand social media buzz as users share their plays and check-ins
- Activate Rockbot's free Automated Social Marketing suite -- the first of its kind in the industry -- with advanced features for enterprise and SMB
- Run the Rockbot TV channel at their venues, displaying the music playing, user engagement, promotions and social media content
- On-screen platform is built in HTML5 to run in the browser, on digital media players like Roku, or on popular digital signage platforms
Our patent-pending platform is 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, and many more, 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.