Johanna Brooks

Johanna has lived overseas in Singapore, Indonesia and Nairobi, Kenya and is a recent graduate of American University in Washington, DC.

Stories of Impact: Spotlight on Social Entrepreneur Tyler Gage

You may have seen him at the Ashoka U Exchange conducting an Amazonian tea ceremony, or handing out samples of RUNA tea in the Inspiration Hall or the iContact Lounge. Recent Brown University alumnus and social entrepreneur Tyler Gage, co-founder and CEO of RUNA Amazon Guayusa Tea, sat down with us and shared a little bit about his personal sources of inspiration, and what he’s been doing to collaborate with colleges and universities since the Ashoka U Exchange.

So, what have you been up to in the past month since the Ashoka U Exchange?

We just got back from the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, California. It’s the largest natural and organic products trade show in the world. We built an Amazonian hut as our booth and hosted blow dart competitions for buyers and media at our booth. As a result, our products have been accepted into Wegman’s on the East Coast and Vitamin Cottage in the Southwest, two large grocery chains. Other than that, I’ve been busy finishing up a move from Ecuador to Brooklyn.

Any new projects or partnerships that have developed from connections you made at the Exchange?

Yes, there were so many great people there at the Exchange, and I’ve actually kept in touch with many of them. We’ve been working on getting RUNA into college and university distribution systems, so that students can benefit from the sustained energy lift our products offer, while studying and cranking through finals.

Another really exciting thing to come out of the Exchange is a new collaboration with university research programs. We’ve submitted requests for research to the appropriate departments and those are being routed through the appropriate channels. We’ve accepted four Masters students into our Summer Research Program in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and two MBA students to work with us in Brooklyn. Building the Runa team is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job.

Oh, and we signed up for iContact, too! Great service, and integrates well with Salesforce if anyone uses that CRM platform.

Something you saw at the Exchange that inspired you.

The Microsoft Education founder Kimberly Jenkins’ talk. Hands down, it was amazing. I have deep respect for individuals who are able to be entrepreneurial inside of big corporations.

Creating your own enterprise is an integrative task. Who have been some of your biggest inspirations and role models in social entrepreneurship?

Wow, there have been so many. Well obviously Douglas McMeekin, who is an Ashoka Fellow in Ecuador, has been a tremendous source of inspiration and support while we’ve been getting RUNA off the ground. He’s helped us craft our operational model and hybrid social enterprise structure with the same integrity he brings to Yachana. Also, the folks over at Sambazon and Guayaki have been great. They’ve been open to share some tips of the trade, and that’s amazing, because they could easily have adopted a more competitive attitude with us.

You were still a student at Brown University when you co-founded RUNA Tea. Did you ever take a course in social entrepreneurship?

Yes – there were two. One was an actual course on Social Entrepreneurship, and the other was a course called Entrepreneurship & New Ventures. Both were critical in helping me to choose how to direct my interests and funnel them into something that would provide me with a professional challenge, but would also work toward creating something sustainable – something we can all feel good about. I think that’s important.

What concepts or practical applications did you learn in those courses that served you in the early stages of creating RUNA?

I learned all about structuring a business model, finances, operating plans, et cetera. I can’t overstress the value of having exposure to numerous entrepreneurs who had been down the road before, alongside the conceptual learning.

Did you have any SE role models on your campus at Brown University?

Alan Harlam, fellow Ashoka U participant and Director of the Social Innovation Initiative at Brown, has been a fantastic, committed supporter from day one, and has helped countless students think through their missions, operating models, and solutions for impact from start to finish. Alan is great. I can’t tell you how invaluable that mentorship has been. It’s been more like a friendship. He’s coached me in so many aspects of life and business.

Additionally, my former professor Danny Warshay has been incredible. His Entrepreneurship & New Ventures class at Brown is unlike any I’ve ever taken, and it definitely changed the way I approach what I do for the better. But his personal mentorship and the time he gives outside the classroom is what makes him exceptional.