Just months after landing the coveted Academy Award for his performance in The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio has announced investment in Runa, which aims to support Ecuadorian farmers through fair trade. The beverage startup made our Inc. 5000 list at No. 203 in 2015, having grown its revenue by more than 2,000 percent since 2011, and bringing in nearly $5 million in sales in 2014. This year, Runa expects to more than double that figure.
On Monday, the Brooklyn, New York-based startup announced a new round of funding from investors including DiCaprio, comedian Marlon Wayans, and actor Adam Rodriguez, along with professional tennis players John Isner and Steve Johnson. DiCaprio has also joined Runa's board of directors, which includes Yolanda Kakabadse, the president of the World Wildlife Fund, and Ann Veneman, the former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and director of UNICEF. (The company would not disclose the total amount raised, or the size of DiCaprio's investment.)
Runa manufactures organic teas and natural energy drinks made from guayusa, a plant native to Ecuador and which the local population has consumed for centuries. Runa, whose name means "fully alive" in the local Kichwa language, supports more than 3,000 indigenous families that grow guayusa, often by hiring them directly.
"The future of these communities, and many like them across the world, are at risk as their native lands are exploited for natural resource and agricultural development. Sustainable farming practices are key to helping ensure a brighter future for so many local people," DiCaprio said of his decision to invest in the company. Uniquely, the Hollywood actor plans to donate his shares back to the indigenous people.
"We must all do everything we can to help indigenous and local people who too often suffer the worst environmental degradation, and are most at risk from climate change," he added.
DiCaprio has invested in a number of private companies to date, such as Mobli, a photo and video-sharing platform, and Rubicon Global, an on-demand trash-hauling app. The actor's eponymous nonprofit, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, is devoted to fighting climate change and other environmental issues, and has awarded $45 million worth of grants since launching in 2014.
Runa, which is headed up by co-founder Tyler Gage, has raised more than $5 million in venture capital funding since inception in 2008, landing wholesale partnerships with companies including Whole Foods, Safeway, and Amazon.