Credit: RUNA, Fast Company
You’ve heard people promoting their health products with a detailed account of their near-death experience, but RUNA, a clean and steady energy drink brand founded by two liberal arts students, is different.
Before we get to the drinks you need to know this Brown University student Tyler Gage, who took a course on the languages and religions of the Amazon, and later went on to live with Amazonian tribes in the jungle. From the Shipibo people he lived with for two years, Gage not only learnt their unparalleled hospitality, unique language and cultural heritage, and their coexistence with the nature, but he was also taught this drink the tribespeople would rise at 3am to make, by boiling a leaf called guayusa in clay pots. Everyone would sit together to enjoy the drink, while interpreting dreams and recounting myths before dawn, and again at night to provide energy and clarity for hunting in the jungle. Intrigued by the leaf, said to have mystical power, Gage decided to research on it, and learnt that this naturally sweet leaf has the same caffeine content as coffee, and double the antioxidant content as green tea.
Upon his return to the United States, Gage embarked on a mission to start a business that could help support the Amazonian families that he spent two years with, knowing that they are struggling in an increasingly urbanised environment, where they can no longer survive with natural resources alone – they need money to send their children to school. Gage knew the guayusa drink would make a hit in the US market, in face of the ever-growing health trend, but the problem was he, a liberal arts student, was clueless about running a business. So together with his close friend and classmate Dan MacCombie, Gage took a business class in the final semester and slowly worked on expanding their network via their professors’ connections. The two entered and won several business plan competitions, and soon after graduating from school, they moved to Ecuador to begin working with local Kichwa communities to build a guayusa supply chain.
Fast forward to today, RUNA is buying guayusa leaves from over 2,300 farming families in the Amazon rainforest, and it goes on to prove that you can have a business in the Amazon that can benefit the environment, human health, and the preservation of traditional cultural practices, all the while supporting local producers.