A few months ago, I visited the Ecuador offices of Runa Amazon Guayusa, a social enterprise founded by a friend from the SF Bay Area, Tyler Gage. Now Tyler’s story has a special place in my heart because it was I who introduced Tyler to the Mamallactas, a family of Kichwa shamans from Ecuador, who served Tyler his first cup of Guayusa tea while he was still a student at Brown University. Watching the evolution of a positive encounter transform into a vision, and then bloom into a full fledged, well funded international social enterprise has been deeply inspiring.
After enjoying his first cup of guayusa, Tyler identified a lucrative gap in the market – here was a highly caffeinated drink that didn’t yet exist on the shelves of US grocery stores. Tyler wrote the business plan for Runa while he was still in university. After he graduated, he and his business partner / class mate / and best friend, Runa Co-Founder Dan MacCombie, flew to Ecuador and spent several months there researching the feasibility of their business idea. Once they determined that their concept was viable.
While I didn’t have time to do a full blown interview with Tyler, with the help of video nomad extraordinaire Shae Frydenlund we were able to film Tyler answering some key questions on what it took to get a social enterprise – one that works with indigenous farmers in Ecuador to provide US markets with sustainably harvested guayusa – off the ground.
In this interview, Tyler Gage, President and Co-founder of Runa Amazon Guayusa, shares how his experiences with the Kichwa people of the Amazon rainforest inspired him to found a social enterprise that exports sustainably harvested guayusa tea sourced from indigenous communities in Ecuador. Runa Amazon Guayusa tea company empowers indigenous peoples by allowing them to earn income by growing Guayusa on rainforest land that would otherwise be sold to loggers. Tyler explains the process of founding a social enterprise in a developing country, and offers advice for those interested in starting their own socially-conscious business.
Runa means, in the Kichwa language, “a fully living human being”. It’s a term of immense cultural pride for the Kichwa people and something we, as change makers, can all aspire to be.