Russell Ili is all about health and growth. Collegiate study of botany combined with traditional training in la‘au lapa‘au (Hawaiian natural medicine) led Russell to an entrepreneurship opportunity that combined both.
Russell attended the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa for Hawaiian studies, but he was always attracted to the native plants around him. “I spoke with Dr. Isabella Aiona Abbott, a botanist, the first Hawaiian woman to get her Ph.D. in science. I told her I was interested in the plants but had no plant background.” Dr. Abbott encouraged Russell to pursue his interest, and pursue he did: he earned a Master’s degree in botany, and is working on his Ph.D. in ethnobotany.
He also got trained in traditional Hawaiian natural medicine by a master. “I was fortunate to be a haumāna of Papa Auwae,” Russell says. “Seeing the power of la‘au lapa‘au and plants in healing helped me decide to go into the Organo Gold business.”
With his botanical and medicinal training, Russell joined the Organo Gold business at the invitation of a classmate. It brought together his love of plants and health.
“Organo Gold is a health and wellness company that uses coffee as a vehicle for special ingredients,” Russell says. The primary special ingredient in the coffee: Ganoderma lucidum, a large, woody, and tough mushroom used for herbal remedies. More commonly known as reishi or lingzhi, the mushroom is understood to have beneficial effects on the immune system, cardiovascular system and prostate gland.
Organo Gold is Russell’s first business venture, now in its fifth year. Prior to joining Organo Gold, Russell taught preschool at Pūnana Leo O Honolulu for nine years, as well as teaching students of various ages about native plants. He appreciates the flexibility that his business allows him as the father of seven children, ranging from age 21 down to 7.
Russell’s biggest piece of advice for entrepreneurs on Hawai‘i Island: “Learning how to be a businessman, and how to run a business, is a lot about personal development. You have to invest the time in making connections. It isn’t about dog-eat-dog.” ❖
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