It’s not often a class project turns into a global company and nonprofit. But for Dan MacCombie and Tyler Gage, an entrepreneurship class in 2008 became the seed to start Runa, a beverage company based both in Brooklyn and in Ecaudor’s Amazon jungle.
While both were students at Brown University, MacCombie and Gage spent time in Ecuador working with non-profits and indigenous communities. In their off-time, they became enamored with a beverage called guayusa. As MacCombie puts it, “It’s got as much caffeine as coffee, but twice the antioxidants of green tea. It actually has a number of things in it that make it naturally sweet, and no tannins. It has high antioxidants and is great for your health.”
Guayusa was originally drank by Ecuadorians as part of a pre-dawn ritual that allowed families to come together each morning. As Silverio Mamallacta, one of Runa’s Field Technicians who also grows guayusa himself, noted: “Guayusa was not originally seen as a commercial product; it was a way for us to perform our religious and spiritual practices. Now that Guayusa is commercialized we see it as an opportunity for people around the world to learn about our culture.” MacCombie and Gage saw its potential not only to showcase Ecuadorian culture but to create sustainable farming practices while also bringing a healthy beverage to a wider audience.
So, upon graduation, the two moved to Ecuador to follow their ambition. They started by convincing farmers to grow guayusa commercially and now have over 2,000 small farmers on board. They also started the Runa Foundation to focus on fair market practices, sustaining the ecosystem through reforestation and conservation, and research on guayusa.
MacCombie and Gage eventually moved back to the US to focus on sales and distribution, and so the company runs in both locations; all the guayusa is grown in Ecuador and the Foundation staff is based there, but they run the sales and development side out of their offices in Brooklyn on Flatbush Ave. Now Runa’s bottled beverages, energy drinks and tea bags can be found everywhere from Whole Foods to Fairway and their guayusa is used in products ranging from David’s Tea to Harney and Sons.
Ali Rosen is the Founder and Host of Potluck Video, a site for food, drink and travel videos. On weekends you can find Ali attempting to not kill her herb garden and thanking her lucky stars for her CSA.