Runa Amazon Guayusa is dedicated to the sustainable production and commercialization of guayusa (pronounced “why-you-sa”), a naturally caffeinated holly leaf from the Ecuadorian Amazon. Guayusa tea contains a unique balance of caffeine, antioxidants, vitamins and amino acids.
The word runa means “fully living human being” in the indigenous Kichwa language of Amazonian Ecuador. For the Kichwa people, living as runa means living with a connection to the land, the community and other cultures. Guayusa tea is a central part of what it means to be runa.
In 2008, while attending Brown University, Runa co-founder and president Tyler Gage decided that he would team up with indigenous communities to share the guayusa tradition with the world. One year later, Gage together with co-founders Dan MacCombie and Charlie Harding formed the organization Runa with proceeds from both the Brown University and Rhode Island state business plan competitions.
Today, under the leadership of Gage, MacCombie and VP of Sales Steve Verde, Runa’s talented team of ex-Senators, professional forestry engineers and indigenous field technicians operates a vertically-integrated multi-part enterprise in Ecuador and the United States. Runa buys fresh guayusa leaves from over 300 indigenous farmers in more than 50 communities in the Napo and Pastaza provinces of Amazonian Ecuador. Processing takes place in Ecuador at the world’s only guayusa factory and Runa’s products are sold in U.S. retail outlets, including Whole Foods stores in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Runa works with indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon to promote sustainable development, focusing on three main work areas: economic development, social empowerment and environmental management.
By providing a Fair Trade market for guayusa in the United States, the company generates an alternative income stream for indigenous farmers, thereby raising their standard of living. Additionally, Runa pays a 15 percent social premium to the Napo Runa Artisan Association that funds a savings account used for community development projects.
Fundación Runa, the non-profit arm of Runa’s organization, supports social empowerment by providing farmers with a democratic forum to organize themselves and voice their needs and demands. The foundation also works with farmers at the household level to improve financial literacy and empower women to think as entrepreneurs.
Runa’s commitment to environmental stewardship goes way beyond an organic certification. The social enterprise works with local stakeholders to conduct participatory research and strategic planning for conservation and sustainable land management in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Runa Amazon Guayusa lies at the intersection of the $7.4 billion ready-to-drink (RTD) tea and $2.8 billion specialty tea markets. Runa is distinguished within the rapidly growing tea and healthy beverages market by offering a new product—guayusa—that is energizing and tasty. The geographic complexity of the Ecuadorian Amazon creates barriers to entry for aspiring exporters of guayusa, solidifying Runa as the leading guayusa brand for years to come.
Last year during the company’s first full year of operations, Runa achieved numerous milestones, including opening more than 100 new retails accounts in a 3-month span and exporting 15,000 lbs of guayusa. Management expects annual revenues of $330,000 in 2011, a number that is projected to almost quadruple in 2012 based on an intensification of the sales and marketing effort and a favorable early response from major retailers like Whole Foods.
To date, Runa has raised $1,345,500, consisting of $1,020,500 in convertible debt, $250,000 in U.S. AID and government grants, and $75,000 from business plan competitions. The innovative enterprise is about to open a Series A round of venture capital funding. Runa seeks $600,000 in equity financing, which will be used for marketing and brand development.