Back to the Roots®, an Oakland, California startup spearheading a movement to reconnect people with food, announced today that it has completed a $5 million strategic seed financing round, led by Tony Robbins’ and Peter Guber’s startup accelerator, Agency of Trillions, along with additional new angel investors. Previous investors — TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, Annie’s founder John Foraker, and Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary — also joined the round.
In a rare mix of private and public equity funding, $3 million of the round was raised through San Francisco-based technology company, Circleup, which has quickly become a leader in the equity-based crowdfunding scene over the past year. Back to the Roots says it is leaving the round open for additional investment through for an additional 30 days.
“There’s an old proverb that says ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ and we know that’s so true for a business, too. From starting off selling fresh mushrooms at farmers’ markets, to crowdfunding our Water Garden on Kickstarter, Back to the Roots has been built through so many individuals’ support,” said co-founder Nikhil Arora. “As we looked to raise this first official round, it was exciting and obvious to us that we had to open this up to our community. We’re grateful to have had such a strong response — having an engaged, deeply committed investor base like this will be crucial as we grow Back to the Roots.”
Founded in 2009 by Arora and UC Berkeley classmate Alejandro Velez, Back to the Roots was conceived after the then-college seniors discovered how to grow organic, gourmet mushrooms from recycled coffee grounds. Since then, the startup has evolved from urban mushroom farming into a thriving business that has received national acclaim: Arora and Velez have been recognized in BusinessWeek’s “Top 25 Entrepreneurs under 25,” Inc.’s “30 Under 30” and the Inc. 500, Forbes’ “30 Under 30,” and CNN’s “10 Next Entrepreneurs to Watch;” and Back to the Roots was named a 2013 Martha Stewart Top Ten American Made honoree and recognized by President Obama as Champions of Change. The company’s products can be found in over 14,000 retailers 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, Kroger and Amazon.
This is the first official round of funding for Back to the Roots. Prior to a $2 million convertible note raised in June, the company was bootstrapped through a combination of business plan competition prize money, Kickstarter, and bank loans. In fact, its initial funding was just a $5,000 grant from UC Berkeley over five years ago.
With the new funding, Back to the Roots plans to continue its major growth trajectory — key for fulfilling its mission to “undo food” and reconnect families to it through fun, delicious and sustainable products. 2015 already saw it expand its line from three to 18 products; branch out from ready to grow to ready to eat lines with its new, award-winning 100% stoneground breakfast cereals and Organic Breakfast Toppers; and sign an exclusive national partnership with Sodexo, one of the world's largest food services and facilities management companies, to launch the cereals in K-12 schools. The funding will be used to accelerate product development (10 new products in the pipeline for 2016), achieve further distribution into more schools and retailers, and build the team at its Oakland headquarters.
“We see an exciting opportunity to ‘Undo Food™’, and continue to create a food company for this next generation that goes beyond natural/organic and focuses on radical transparency, sustainability, and great design,” Velez said. “We want to bring the same level of trust that families feel when they grow their own food, directly to the grocery aisle and ready to eat food.”