Biomimicry, Berkeley and Whole Foods

What does the study of Biomimicry, Berkeley University and Whole Foods have in common? Boys growing mushrooms, that’s what.

But first, let me tell you why this is on my radar screen. I was recently invited to review Stage 2 applications for The Biomimicry Design Challenge biomimicry(visit the link to see the submissions that made it past Stage 1), a competition spearheaded by The Biomimicry 3.8 Institute. Aimed at college and university students, the design challenge provides an opportunity for students to work collaboratively in teams to apply biomimicry concepts and tools to arrive at a sustainable and innovative design solution.

I manage two competitions for NCIIA, coached hundreds of founders, reviewed SBIR Phase II grants for the NSF … BUT, what do I really know about biomimicry? Time to brush up!

On the WebEx orientation for judges (something you don’t see many reviewing organization do) a passing comment alluded to ‘the mushroom boys from Berkeley’. That’s how I discovered Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez of University of California Berkeley who are using the fundamental principles of biomimicry to haul off thousands of pounds of waste from barista coffee grounds to grow gourmet mushrooms, mushroom kits and premium soil amendment sold at hundreds of Whole Foods locations on the West Coast… and they’re expanding nationally.

Alex Velez & Nikhil Arora, from Back to the Roots,
describe ‘Business 3.0’ as delivering value to all partners.

These recent grads have developed a truly sustainable business, having cultivated a symbiotic relationship between the coffee shop sector, through its waste stream, and the urban local food consumer. You will not regret watching their 15-minute TEDx talk (above). If you’re like me, you’ll be smiling the entire time, taken by their charm, authenticity and … well … giddiness, about how obvious it is that time-tested fundamentals of value generation can serve as a guiding principle in building highly-sustainable businesses.

Another great way to take in a crash course in Biomimicry in under a half hour is by watching Biomimicry 3.8 founder Janine Benyus’ riveting TED talk, ’12 sustainable design ideas from nature’.


~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera