By Lorna Li
From a cup of tea shared in ceremony with a family of Kichwa shamans to an Amazon adventure that sparked a business, Tyler Gage is young social entrepreneur brimming with wisdom on what it takes to start a social enterprise that works with indigenous communities in a developing country like Ecuador.
Today, Runa Amazon Guayusa is bringing sustainably harvested tea to Western markets, supporting and empowering numerous Kichwa communities, while helping to stop deforestation at the same time.
Key advice for early stage social entrepreneurs
Starting a green business or social enterprise is an entrepreneurial journey that takes time, effort, and is full of challenges, especially at the beginning. Here are Tyler’s tips for early stage social entrepreneurs on how to get their mission driven businesses off the ground:
- Always be on the lookout for triple bottom line business ideas. While drinking guayusa tea with the local Ecuadorians, Tyler didn’t realize at first that he was sipping an exceptional green business idea. But after learning about the growing energy drink market, and realizing that guyausa tea was higher in caffeine and antioxidants than coffee or green tea, he knew he had a winning idea – especially since no one else was marketing guyausa commercially. By encouraging Ecuadorians to grow tea rather than chopping down trees, Tyler could benefit the planet, create a sustainable source of income for the people, and invest in their culturally rich heritage, too.
- Hone your skills and get seed funding from business plan competitions. Of the many sources of funding for social entrepreneurs, business plan competitions can help you get your social enterprise off the ground by providing valuable services as well as significant cash prizes. Preparing for business plan competitions will teach you how to write a compelling business plan and hone your presentation skills. Tyler was able to raise $70,000 through business plan competitions at the start of his adventure with Runa Amazon Guayusa.
- Never stop networking. Through nonstop networking, Tyler was able to form powerful strategic relationships and partnerships with business experts and those who’d done similar work in indigenous communities. The end result was expert guidance that helped Runa avoid many of the common problems related to starting a social enterprise in a developing country, and more importantly, access to diverse funding sources.
Ways business can empower the communities they work in
Many businesses operating in developing countries employ locals at rock bottom prices and send all the profits overseas. Runa Amazon Guayusa made it part of their core business mission to empower their stakeholders and the local communities.
Rather than buying land and growing the tea leaves themselves, Tyler chose to work directly with the indigenous communities to help them set up their own guayusa nurseries. Runa then purchases the leaves from the farmers, paying them a fair price, after which the leaves are processed in their Ecuadorian facility. With local community empowerment as part of their business vision, Tyler hopes to grow Runa Tea into a company that provides over $500,000 in direct income for the Ecuadorian farmers over the next five years.
If you are interested in hearing the entire story of Runa, register for the Green Business Entrepreneurs Success Summit. Lorna Li and Tyler Gage will discuss:
- Funding sources (you’ve never heard of) that are available to social entrepreneurs in developing countries.
- Tips on walking your talk as a triple bottom line business and establishing trusted partnerships with indigenous communities.
- What it takes to set up a culturally sensitive, fair trade and sustainable supply chain in a developing country.
- How to make your social venture startup attractive to angel and VC investors.
This FREE virtual event is an online conference where you can get powerful business advice (without the travel costs and conference fees) from 28 expert speakers on how to start and grow a thriving green business.
Lorna Li is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Green Marketing TV. She is the host of the Entrepreneurs for a Change Podcast and the Green Business Entrepreneurs Success Summit. Lorna specializes in Social Media SEO, the art of using social media to increase web visibility and search engine rankings. She works with socially responsible business owners as an Internet Marketing Business Coach.