Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week he talks to Angus Brown from Arepa.
There have been quite a few functional drinks that have popped up in the supermarket fridges lately, drinks that claim to help you focus and recover. But many of these drinks (I’m looking at you Vitamin Water) are actually packed full of sugar and dubious science. So many over the years in fact that you might be forgiven for thinking they were all empty claims.
But not so with Arepa. After seeing the impact of cognitive illnesses on families, he set out to learn more about things that help the brain. That journey took him to launch a functional drink that’s backed by patents, research and formulated with a professor of psychopharmacology from Melbourne. Our guest is Angus Brown, founder of Arepa, a drink that’s now found all across the world. He joins us to chat the entrepreneur’s journey, discovery and selling a drink with a bit more to it.
How did you get into this field of nootropics (aka cognitive enhancers)?
I worked for a very large energy drink company and during that time I struggled with the concept of selling sugar and caffeine to the masses. I had a moment where I’d sold quite a lot of these large serving size cans and I saw a nine-year-old kid walking out of a dairy with one and I thought: ‘Am I doing any good here?’
Then I lost a couple grandparents to brain-related illness, and saw friends and family struggle with things like anxiety and nervousness heading into interviews or social situtations. I also watched the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper where he takes the magic smart pill and becomes a genius and turns his life around.
So I started to think: ‘What does a smart drink or brain drink look like?’ and I kind of fell into the world of nootropics. From there, the start of the rabbit hole began
How does one get into that rabbit hole? Were you thinking that maybe there could be a drink that was good for the brain as opposed to hopping you up on sugar and caffeine?
Yeah, I guess I’m an optimist, I have an imagination, and I kind of thought ‘why not?’ So while working for this energy drink company, I had all these ideas and originally I was pitching to the company I worked for who are very large, very successful and if you live in New Zealand you’ve probably consumed one of their products. But they weren’t really listening and they were thinking ‘oh that’s a nice idea but you should just sell more of our energy drinks’ . So I thought ‘bugger it, I’m gonna do something myself.’
I came across this facility called The Food Bowl funded by Callaghan Innovation and it’s a $30 million modular food factory, kind of like a Willy Wonka. They can literally help you make anything you can conceive. I went there as their fourth ever client and we’d done some really rough research and we knew that berry fruit was good for you, New Zealand pine bark was good for you, and we just did some bucket chemistry and mucked around and made the concept of what a brain drink would look like.
Google helped and there were some products overseas that were pointing towards the space of foods for the brain and for some reason beverages were a bit of a format. We didn’t wanna go with a pill cause the traditional formats were in nootropics and nootropics came from 1970s research for flighter pilots, army personnel and then a lot of research came from treating people with ADD/ADHD.