MSc Law & Finance
Food & Drink
In 2015, I left a corporate finance position at the biggest real estate investment company in Ecuador to pursue the dream of making the Guayusa leaf famous in the entire world. When I applied to the MSc in Law and Finance back in 2013, I already knew that I wanted to start a social impact business, but I never went all-in until Juan David Gómez (my co-founder) and I discovered this magical leaf.
The MLF degree creates entrepreneurs: yes!
One of the biggest challenges in moving from a corporate career path to an entrepreneurial endeavour is to use the tools and skills gained during your previous degree and experience, and to put them into practice. In my case, coming from a law and finance background, I did what I was good at and quickly set up the company, established a shareholder’s agreement, raised capital, and started building solid grounds for putting a team together that would help the company in areas where my co-founder and I were not knowledgeable. At first, it was quite challenging for me to understand how to build a company focused on an industry I had no knowledge about, but the training you get during a business degree in Oxford really made the difference. I acquired both hard and soft skills during my MSc in Law and Finance, the most important ones being perhaps perseverance and patience.
How we discovered Guayusa
In 2015 I was travelling around Ecuador with my co-founder Juan David. Ecuador has four geographical regions: the coast, highlands, rainforest and the Galapagos. Food being our passion, we knew already about many of the treasures that the coast and highlands had to offer. However, the rainforest was still to be discovered and we were surely going to find something amazing there. On our trip we visited local Quichua communities, went rafting, visited the famous Jumandi caves, and had long walks that seemed never ending. Many traditional foods were presented to us by the locals and we were already dreaming about the many things we could do with such resources.
One morning, we were woken up at 3am and taken no-questions-asked to the fireplace of one of our new local friends. There they started telling us about a super-leaf called Guayusa which they had been drinking for centuries. Of course we were very sleepy and tired of the endless walks in the rainforest. As our local friends started laughing seeing how sleepy we were, we were offered live, but crunchy ants that were a delicacy of the season and they actually tasted like roasted corn. “Yummy!” we said, and they laughed again. And we still wanted to go to bed.
Then, we were offered Guayusa in a traditional cup called “pilche”, which had been boiling in the fireplace during the time we were talking and laughing. The tea-like beverage was very smooth, with some grassy tones and a natural sweetness in it, although they said no sugar was added. Then they told us how Guayusa was used by them and their ancestors, as the morning drink that they shared in family before their daily activities. They told us how the older one interpreted dreams during this ceremony. And they even told us the story of how Guayusa helped the hunters foresee dangers they would face each day. Suddenly as the ceremony was finishing our tiredness had vanished. Guayusa had kicked in and we were feeling the energy in our bodies. We did not go back to sleep that day but instead realized that we had discovered the most powerful source of energy in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador: Guayusa.
Guayusa: the super-leaf
Guayusa is a super-leaf only found in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador and the demand for it has grown from inexistent to over USD 15 million in the USA alone. Its original use as a tea has now expanded to energy drinks and the pharmaceutical industry is looking closely at Guayusa’s healing properties as natural medicine keeps trending.
Guayusa is one of the most caffeinated leaves known to humankind and is consumed as a tea (mainly brewed). Yes! – It has more caffeine than black and green tea and as much caffeine as coffee. It is also packed with polyphenols. Guayusa has been consumed by the Quichua people from the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest for centuries. It also contains a large amount of antioxidants (more than green tea!) while having a smoother taste that is also perfect for blending. Guayusa gives you an energy boost without the jitters that are common to coffee, energy drinks, and other caffeinated beverages.
Traditional use of Guayusa
The traditional ritual with Guayusa in the Quichuan culture is that every day at 3–4 am, when families get together around the fire, they drink Guayusa to wake up and tell the stories of their dreams. The wise man, the oldest man in the family, would interpret the dreams and give recommendations for the day. Afterwards, hunters would leave the house and other members of the family would continue with their activities. It is said that Guayusa gives hunters the energy and power to foresee when a prey is nearby, or when a dangerous snake or insect is going to attack them.
Guayusa is also an agroforestry crop. This means that it does not need mono-cultives to grow. It’s sustainable in the long term as it can be grown together with other native crops, and therefore it does not require ruining the ecosystem; rather the opposite, it promotes conservation in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest.
Waykana Guayusa works with hundreds of small growers in the Amazon region of Ecuador. We buy the fresh leaves from these growers at prices higher than the local fair trade standard and process them in our state-of-the-art processing plant that is also set up locally in the Amazon region of Ecuador. We only hire local people to work with us in the processing of the leaf, as they have been brewing this amazing leaf for centuries. Our product is certified organic in the US, Canada, and the EU.
In an ancient language from Ecuador, called Kichwa, Waykana means to group people to achieve a common goal. This is something we have lived by since the beginning of the company, when my co-founder Juan Gómez and I set out to explore the Amazon without a penny in our wallets. We discovered many superfoods in this region, but there was only one which was unique to Ecuador, namely Guayusa. And with the help of the local people in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador and now the help of the people spreading the word about Guayusa all over the world, we are making this super-leaf famous.
Currently, we are exporting to China, the Middle East, South Africa, and North America, and we are looking to enter the European market and Oceania by 2018. During our first year, we broke the record for local start-ups exporting from Ecuador reaching nine countries by month twelve.
After only three months of the incorporation of our company in Ecuador, we were able to raise our first round of financing and in 2017, we raised a second round for our expansion into the US.
Waykana has a deep commitment to conservation and thus has partnered in Ecuador with the GIZ and will be launching its Limited Edition Guayusa box from the Yasuni National Park Reserve in Ecuador in the next month. Yasuni is extremely biodiverse: it has more amphibian species than the USA and Canada combined. However, due to crude oil present in the region, the conservation of the Yasuni is jeopardized. Hence we are trying to create awareness by generating sustainable income for the local families. You will be able to buy this amazing premium Guayusa tea via Amazon.
The future of Waykana
Currently, we are expanding to offer RTD products and to build our Board of Advisors with a focus in Sales, Operations, and Marketing. We want to work with people committed to social impact. We think Guayusa has a big potential for the development of functional beverages and super-foods which we are already developing and would love to expand on a bigger scale in the near future. We are also interested in starting conversations with potential investors if the opportunity arises.
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