The Mind behind Sprouted Minds

How does one person conger up a brand in their mind? What drives a person to put everything on the line? Starting from the bottom with no money, no resources or contacts and absolutely no understanding of the food industry -- it certainly hasn't been easy. I've always believed in being the hardest worker in the room. But I've also believe in surrounding myself with individuals who are more intelligent and successful than I am. Sprouted Minds has never been a vessel to a road of riches. My brand is my life struggle wrapped up in a beautiful presentation of health, prosperity and the strong desire to help others grow to their potential. I've always beenpassionate about showing others the healthier way in living their life. At the same time I fully endorse the idea in only listening to those who have walked the walk. From being an obese child up until my late adolescence I learned at a young age the power of will and what it takes to lose over 100 pounds and getting on the right track to health. I created Sprouted Minds for those like minded individuals who desire the highest quality products on the market. People are tired of brands being disingenuous hiding behind a veil of secrecy. For me, when I consume a food product from a brand I adore I want to know the person behind it. I want to understand their state of mind. A brand should start with an individual. I wrote this for that exact reason. To give you a better understanding of me and my state of mind. We'll start this path on where the spark of Sprouted Minds entered my mind.

In 2009, I was involved in a terrible automobile accident. It was the typical case of surrounding myself with the wrong type of people. I was a passenger sleeping in the back of the vehicle when a "friend" (no longer) got into a physical altercation with his girlfriend which caused the accident while we were traveling over 80mph on the highway. It was miraculous that we survived but it had left me very seriously injured. The worst of my injuries being a ruptured disc in my lower back which required me to undergo back surgery at while I was in my early twenties. Little did I know at the time that this injury would dictate the next 10 years of my life. I was left very frail and constantly in the worst of pains. I had no choice in giving up my passion of martial arts (Brazilian Jiujitsu). For years my dream had been to become a Black Belt instructor at the world famous Gracie Jiujitsu Academy to teach others this "gentle art" that I loved so much. But life goes on and being in the state that I was in I began my journey into the yoga world after numerous recommendations. Having a martial arts background I was pretty shy and felt slightly embarrassed to be the only male in the classes. However, these anxieties quickly dissipated once I started to realize the physical, and even more so, the mental strengths I was starting to gain. My yoga journey continues and is a daily regime in my life. And without it I know I wouldn't be where I am today. It gave me the mental clarity to get out from the depression I felt and to truly understand and embracing that fact that I was now a disabled person with very limited use of my body. Even though I was getting stronger I faced daily reminders of my condition. I could hardly get out of bed and was forced to brush my teeth on my knees as I was unable to stoop over the faucet. At times I'd have to crawl on my elbows with legs dragging behind me to reach the rest room. It was a sad state to find myself in. I had almost no family contact and grew up in an extremely tumultuous and violent family situation with no ties to my father, siblings, and a on-and-off relationship with my mother. At this point of my life I really was a lost soul. I was jobless, carless, and sleeping on a couch in a living room. But before I could move forward in my life I had to fix my back, or at least keep trying. 

One day after attending a physical therapy session I ventured over to a local Whole Foods Market to see what new products were on the shelves as I always amused by branding efforts. I saw that a vendor was giving away samples so I walked over to check out what they had to offer. They were an Oakland based refrigerated bar company named Core Foods. I popped a small sample into my mouth and closed my eyes. And it was at that moment I realized what I wanted to do with my life - I wanted to be a Whole Foods Market vendor! But how? For whatever reason, I had this strong gut feeling that I had to move to Northern California so that I could be in the thick of food innovation. In reality, however, I had no money or family to ask any favors. And after months of contemplation the only sound idea I could come up with was that if I wanted to be in the East Bay launching a food startup with no money, no experience, and no contacts I was going to have to do something spectacular. They only sound idea I could conjure up was that I was going to have to become a student at UC Berkeley so that I could get notable credibility as well as using Financial Aid and Student Loans to get the first part of my business rolling (warning! -- not recommended to the faint of heart!). And so I did something I never thought I would and I signed up at a junior college with the intention of earning straight A's -- a distant hope for someone who graduated high school with a sub-1.8 GPA. Nonetheless, I had my eyes set on being the UC Berkeley student who landed his product into Whole Foods Market. Ignoring the naysayers, and holding onto what I believed I was capable of, I was able to accomplish exactly what I set out to do. After three years attending a junior college I was one of five transfer students at my college to be accepted into UC Berkeley - the top college in the US to accept transfer students (and the number one public university in the world). At this point I hadn't even started making bars yet but I knew my mission and I was dead set on figuring it out when I arrived on campus. Unfortunately, misfortune struck again, and even worse than it had before. During the seven hour car ride up to UC Berkeley the long placed too much pressure on my still injured disc and again my L5-S1 disc ruptured and this time it was worse than i imagined possible. 

I arrived to student housing where I was to start my Berkeley transition in the worst imaginable pain. I couldn't move or get out of my bed. I was constantly nauseous due to the levels of pain I was experiencing. Worst yet, I had no health insurance and my medical treatment was no longer covered by the automobile insurance from the accident. I was forced to stay in bed for over a month until my health insurance kicked in (as it was going to be covered by Financial Aid). But in order to keep the insurance I had to maintain a C average. I was unable to walk for more than 10 feet without having to lay down on the floor. And this was my life for over eight months. I would walk a few feet towards campus and then I would have to lay down on the sidewalk with onlookers assuming I was simply a crazed homeless person. The only way I could keep making it to class was to get permission from campus to become part of Disabled Student's Program. They sent letters to all my professors giving me permission to lay on the floor in all my classes. Let me assure you, I had never imagined my first semester at UC Berkeley was going to end up like this. The looks I received from almost everyone was certainly the most demoralized I had ever felt in my life. But I knew I was stronger than to fold under this pressure. I had my mission of starting my company, resolving my back problems, and to be one of the top brands in Whole Foods Market -- no matter what. 

However, things kept getting worse. The top medical sports doctor at Cal told me that my back was simply in too bad of shape to get better on its own and then referred me to neural surgeon to get another back surgery. After all I had been through this news couldn't be harder to deal with. I still had my dreams of becoming a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu and that dream was becoming more distant every day. As the pain got worse and I had less mobility I had no choice but to drop out of Berkeley. I laid in bed broken, staring at the ceiling with no friends in the area to ask for assistance. I wasn't even able to use the restroom as it was impossible for me to be in a seated position. But as determined as I was It was during this time that I started making the recipe for what would later become known as Sprouted Minds. I found the courage to get out of bed and to design different mixtures of ingredients for however long as I was able to stand. But I knew I couldn't go on like this for much longer and out of mere desperation I started Googling different types of Stem Cell therapies. This is where I discovered a company called, Regenexx. They are a leader in Stem Cell and PRP (plasma rich platelet) therapies. Luckily for me they just happened to be opening an office in Northern California in the next few weeks and I was one of their first patients. Even though I wasn't able to sit down in any capacity I drove myself (a manual transmission, mind you) over an hour away --imagine what that looked like. The doctor said I had a very large disc rupture (10mm), which was larger than the first time, and since I had already had surgery he doubted it would be of much help to me. However, I kept positive and fully believed this was going to fix my situation. Fast forward six weeks (after two separate injection sessions) over 90% of my pain disappeared! I couldn't believe it and neither could my doctors or physical therapists! They called it miraculous and it was nothing short of. Finally, it was game time and my mission for the spotlight at Whole Foods was finally in focus. After lots of ground work, finally in my last year at UC Berkeley, Harv, the Local Forager at Whole Foods Market, approved Sprouted Minds to begin sales starting at the Berkeley Whole Foods Market location! And that's where the easy work ended and the uphill battle began but I couldn't be any more excited!

If you found this story inspiring I hope it incites you to not accept defeat but to run towards it with conviction. I've never accepted "no" as an acceptable answer. I view disadvantages as a chance to challenge myself. You really can overcome any obstacle that life places in your path if you choose to do so. Stay positive because that's all we have control over in this world.



Sprouted Minds founder, Michael Assayag, at the Berkeley Student Food Collective.