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Success Stories

Success Stories

Urban Farmers and Young Entrepreneurs

How many business owners get a chance to discuss fiscal policy with the President of the United States at the White House?  Not many.  Nikhil Arora and Alex Velez had the opportunity in November of 2012, along with eleven other business owners.  But how did they get to the level of success that merits an invitation to a tête-a-tête in the Roosevelt Room?

Back in 2009, Nikhil and Alex decided to forego lucrative careers in investment banking and consulting to become full-time, urban mushroom farmers.  Classmates at UC Berkeley, the two were enchanted by the ability to grow gourmet mushrooms on recycled coffee grounds.

“We fell in love with this ‘waste-to-food’ model our last semester,” recalled Nikhil. “We started off with some test buckets in Alex's fraternity kitchen closet and a $5,000 grant from our Chancellor.”

Today that Oakland-based business is known as Back to the Roots and employs 15 employees. “Our vision is to connect families to food through fun and... Read More

Growing a Small Renewable Energy Executive Search Firm into Something Big

“I worked for an executive search firm as a recruiter from 2008 to late 2010 and the firm executed searches in multiple industries. When new searches in renewable energy, would come in, none of the other recruiters wanted to work on them so I became specialized in the field of renewable energy. I fell in love with the people who dedicated their talents to benefit our environment and decided to open my own search firm specializing solely in the renewable energy space,” Carina Whitham recalls.

North Coast SCORE Chapter Chair Richard Adler worked with Carina in 2010 and 2011 in preparation for the launch of her own executive search firm, Whitham Group Executive Search  in December 2010. . Whitham Group recruits and places executives in the arenas of Solar, Wind, Biofuels, Biomass, Geothermal Energy and all other areas of renewables.

Adler outlined what he wanted from Whitham to gauge where she was in the process. “I came prepared with a list of my competitors, sales... Read More

The idea behind Cool Earth Solar is to remove any perceived limits on solar power. This means designing solar technology so that first, it competes economically against all forms of electricity generation and second, that there are no limiting bottlenecks in material or process that prevent the scaling up of solar as much as we want to address our energy needs.

“At Cool Earth Solar, we are reshaping solar technology, literally and philosophically. Our unique concentrated-photovoltaic (CPV) technology is designed to ‘tread lightly’ on the landscape and to deliver solar power at a low cost to the environment and in dollars and cents,” said CEO Rob Lamkin.  Cool Earth Solar's CPV is an inflated solar concentrator made primarily of inexpensive and free materials. This design approach reduces material requirements as well cost and time.

Cool Earth Solar was introduced to the Silicon Valley Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at a seminar hosted at iGate, one of... Read More

How much difference does the quality of olive oil make to the flavor of your food?  A lot, according to Olive This Olive That co-owners and founders Janell Pekkain and Mary Kucel.  In the summer of 2012, Pekkain opened an olive oil tasting bar in San Francisco to give people an opportunity to taste a wide variety of extra virgin olive oils and discover the difference in taste for themselves.

“Our business gets people really excited and knowledgeable about extra virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegars, pairings, and uses.” Pekkain explained.  She finds the looks on people’s faces as they experience the tasting for the first time almost as rewarding as the sales that result.

Olive This Olive That is a boutique retailer with three part time employees that sells extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, hand-crafted pasta, and other fresh, food products. Pekkain prides herself on the customer service provided in her shop as well as the quality foodstuffs.

Pekkain’s... Read More