The Food Companies That Made Inc.'s "30 Under 30" List

Inc. Magazine recently unleashed its list of "30 Under 30" nominees. And among them are a few familiar faces from the food industry. If you aren’t familiar with them, get acquainted. These leaders aren’t just paving the way in the food & dining game, they are shifting the way we think about business.

The Product:
Soylent, Rob Rhinehart (CEO & Co-Founder of Rosa Labs)

We’ve all heard about engineered alternatives to food. But Soylent is proving that this futuristic model of the way humans consume nutrients, vitamins and minerals could actually work. Maybe it’s ahead of its time, but the company’s $25M raised in funding, along with its $10M in sales just last year, would say otherwise.

Soylent, a product of Rosa Labs — of which Rhinehart is co-founder of alongside three others — is a powdered meal replacement shake that was born from the idea that the food system needs to evolve. 

“When I took the time to think about the detrimental effects our food system has on the earth and the fact that many humans are overweight, I thought maybe we could use engineering to help fix this problem too,” Rhinehart told Inc.

Soylent allegedly includes most of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals a human being needs. But, unlike media has speculated, Rhinehart assures consumers that he did not set out for Soylent to act as a replacement for “regular food” entirely. He thinks it’s a step forward to a more healthful, sustainable and safer way of food production.

The Restaurant:
Sweetgreen, Nathaniel Ru, Jonathan Neman & Nicolas Jammet (Co-Founders)

One of the first fast casuals in the segment’s Millennial-esque resurgence, Sweetgreen is a D.C.-based chain that has seen rapid expansion within the northeast in the past couple of years. The power of Sweetgreen comes from more than its locally sourced ingredients and healthy salad-based menu. Its hip, modern aesthetic and culture embody what it means to be successful in the ever-competitive fast casual market today. 

The three co-founders have based their company on personal values and did so at an opportune time (in 2007). Additionally, the restaurant brand has branched into a lifestyle brand with its Sweetlife Music and Food Festival, which attracts thousands of people each year, along with some of the hottest musical artists and local vendors.

Check out our Fast Casual Nation interview with Nic Jammet:

The Software:
Enplug, Navdeep Reddy, Zach Spitulski, Nanxi Liu and Alex Ross (Co-Founders)

Digital signage has become huge in the restaurant business. Especially with the sensation of social media, Enplug allows operators to display content quickly and seamlessly — from real-time social media feeds to specials or campaigns they want to highlight and anything in between. Enplug offers a universal operating system and an app market where operators can customize which apps they want to use for display purposes.

As co-founder Nanxi Liu told Foodable last year, “We really want to transform the customer experience while helping to increase the restaurant’s sales.”

And it makes sense. Now, dining out is all about the guest experience and people want to feel a part of that experience, so engagement is crucial from restaurant to consumer.

The Eco-Conscious:
Back to the Roots, Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez (Co-Founders)

Urban mushroom farming kits. That’s how it all started for Arora and Velez. But what makes Back to the Roots truly unique is the eco-conscious processes used to produce a certain outcome. While the guys have expanded their lineup, their urban mushroom farming kits, which they began in 2009, don’t require an outdoor space. In fact, users (er, growers) are provided recycled coffee grounds to grow their mushrooms. It all comes full circle.

The final 30 nominees were whittled down from more than 550 applications. The five judges that helped the Inc. staff narrow down the list were Steve Case (AOL co-founder); Scott Belsky (Behance founder); Sarah Prevette (Future Design School founder); Troy Carter (Atom Factory CEO) and Julia Hartz (Eventbrite co-founder).