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Tyler Gage, co-founder and co-CEO of Runa, will deliver the annual Robert and Mary Ferguson lecture at Western Illinois University.
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Robert and Mary Ferguson Lecture October 14

October 6, 2015

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MACOMB, IL - - Tyler Gage, co-founder and co-CEO of Runa, will deliver the annual Robert and Mary Ferguson lecture at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14 in the Western Illinois University Union Grand Ballroom.

The lecture, "Profit and Sustainability: It's All About People," is sponsored by the WIU College of Business and Technology (CBT) and will coordinate with the WIU 2015-16 theme, "Environment: A Foundation for Social Responsibility." It is open free to the public, and a 30-minute question and answer session will follow.

Gage has been recognized as a Forbes "30 Under 30 Entrepreneur;" was featured in Richard Branson's book, "Screw Business as Usual," in "Fast Company," National Geographic" and "Men's Health; and he recently received the Citizen of the Year Award from the International Specialty Food Association. He spent the last 10 years working with indigenous communities in the Amazon to develop rainforest conservation programs and economic development.

He helped found Runa, a social enterprise that produces clean energy beverages and uses its supply chain to improve the livelihoods of thousands of indigenous farming families in the Amazon. Runa, which is on the "Inc. Magazine" 500 Fastest Growing Companies in America in 2015 list, supports more than 3,000 farming families in Ecuador and sells products in thousands of stores in the U.S.

After being recruited by Brown University, in Providence (RI), to play soccer, Gage developed a fascination with Amazonian cultures. After his freshman year, he traveled to South America, where he spent several years researching Amazonian languages. During this time, he witnessed firsthand the tradeoff indigenous communities face—they want to preserve their cultural and environmental heritage, but they had an immediate need to earn money and feed their families. Gage watched as the Kichwa people felt forced to participate in unsustainable activities like logging to pay for education and medicine.

While in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Gage was introduced to guayusa (pronounced gwhy-you-sa), a rare Amazonian leaf that contains as much caffeine as coffee, double the antioxidants of green tea and a naturally sweet taste. Gage recognized that no one had ever commercially produced the leaves, and he saw an opportunity for indigenous farmers to sustainably produce this product to support their families and offer a healthy energy beverage to U.S. consumers.

When Gage returned to Brown, he wrote a business plan with his friend, Dan, for a new enterprise. He turned down a Fulbright grant after graduating and moved to Ecuador. Gage was able to secure funding from a diverse range of investors, including The MacArthur Foundation and actor and activist Channing Tatum.

Runa is now one of the fastest growing brands in the U.S. and purchased over 1 million pounds of fresh guayusa leaves produced by more than 3,000 farming families in 2015.

The Robert and Mary Ferguson lecture was started 25 years ago by the generosity of the late Robert (Bob) and his wife, Mary. Robert received his bachelor's degree from Western and later served as a professor and the business education chair for 20 years. He was instrumental in guiding the WIU Department of Business Education through numerous changes, including the 1966 establishment of the WIU College of Business.

The lecture series is based on Robert's belief that all college students should benefit from the depth and breadth of experience, especially by seeing and hearing from key business leaders who have been successful.

For more information, contact Lori Boyer at (309) 298-2442 or

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