Investing in a Healthier Future: A Conversation with Manna Tree Partners

First Republic Bank
October 8, 2021

  • What's the value of healthy living? Manna Tree Partners—a health-focused private equity firm—invests in growth-stage companies dedicated to improving consumer health. 
  • After witnessing her father launch the Carlyle Group 30 years ago, Manna Tree's co-founder, Ellie Rubenstein, shares the foundation on which she built the company.  
  • The company seeks to revolutionize health focused investments and inspire business leaders to prioritize wellness in the process.    
As the pandemic elevates the importance of human health, the need for health-driven investment is clearer than ever. And that’s exactly what Gabrielle “Ellie” Rubenstein, Ross Iverson and Brent Drever set out to do with Manna Tree Partners, a Vail, Colorado-based private equity firm dedicated to improving human health through nutrition.  
With a thriving portfolio of growth-stage companies at the intersection of food production and consumer products, Manna Tree helps brands meet consumer demand in a rapidly evolving industry—spurring growth and improving consumer health in the process. 
First Republic Bank recently sat down with Ellie and Ross, Manna Tree’s co-founders and respective CEO and CIO. They offered insight into their shared vision for a healthier world through investment, the power of partnership and authenticity, and how business owners can center wellness in their organizations.  

What’s your vision for Manna Tree and your impact on human health? 

Ellie: I watched my father (David Rubenstein, co-founder of The Carlyle Group) build something incredible that still thrives 30 years later. Our goal with Manna Tree was to build on the principles he taught me and create a tangible investment product. 
Everything about Manna Tree is authentic and centered around health. We lead with health because that matches the values of our three co-founding partners. We're making strategic, forward-thinking investments that are driving people to lead healthier lives. 
Ross: We saw that human health was going through this revolution. Five of the nine leading causes of premature death are linked to poor nutrition. As an investment firm, we want to be a problem solver. If we’re going to improve population health with Manna Tree, we need to do it through a nutrition vehicle.  
Ellie: In my case, I've been very open about my health issues. Growing up, I was always having allergy attacks and experienced stomach problems. 
The words "Manna Tree" mean "food from heaven." Right now, I’m going through a new round of stomach issues, and there's no greater joy than knowing that my colleagues and I are helping build a company that offers probiotics and thinking “I can eat this.”   

Manna Tree has a novel approach to leadership: what’s your philosophy? 

Ellie: We've tried to evangelize what the C-suite looks like. Ross, Brent and I believe that the top-down, “100% owner” concept of CEO is not who we are.  
What's far more important right now is personal branding at the C-suite level. If you have self-actualization at the top, you’ll see it throughout the organization. It's a partnership. When you begin a partnership and have a client-centered mindset, it makes a difference in how you build products and treat people. That's the Manna Tree way. 
That’s also why we fit so well with First Republic Bank, which helps to give me the freedom of mindshare, so I can focus on being a CEO and grow our firm alongside my partners. I matched with First Republic's mindset of understanding the unique needs of the individual, the family and the communities we serve. That's what a mission-driven C-suite should be looking for.  

How do you attract the right partners to realize your vision? 

Ross: There’s an instant authenticity. When partners meet with Manna Tree and hear what we're trying to accomplish on a macro level, they tend to say, “if you guys can work with us, we would rather have you.” We believe this alignment results in better valuations and better alignment at the board level, which translates into a good partnership. 
Ellie: Our partners love coming to our office and seeing our team workouts, and that we're eating or drinking their products to fuel ourselves. That, to them, is the holy grail. They realize that the culture that they built isn’t going to change. If anything, we're going to amplify it.  

How do you stay authentic in an industry plagued by greenwashing and healthwashing? 

Ross: We're living in this era where environmental, social and governance (ESG) is becoming the norm in investing. I think people resonate with the Manna Tree portfolio because they see real activity there.  
With ESG, we're not just looking at a small, incremental change; we're looking at system-wide changes that can be sustainable over the next 50 to 100 years. As minority investors, we back entrepreneurs that start their companies for those reasons.  
We also live in a world where 88% of Americans are metabolically unhealthy, and there's a lot of companies that are not regulated by the FDA. Our job at Manna Tree is to back brands with enough capital to gain market share and replace Americans’ unhealthy calories with healthier options.  

What advice would you give to other business owners trying to center wellness in their organizations? 

Ellie: Start with yourself, and be open about your health. I'm the CEO of a health-driven investment firm, and I might look healthy, but that doesn't mean that I don't have ups and downs with my health.  
Meet your employees where they are today and take the time to understand the depth of why health issues come up. You need to personalize your solutions and allow each person to experience their own health journey. 

What’s next for Manna Tree? 

Ross: We just came off an amazing summer and added five new people to our team.  
We also completed three new investments, including one—Health-Ade—in a new category: functional beverages. It’s exciting, because a lot of Americans’ empty calories come from beverages, and this product has the opportunity to improve the microbiome through good gut bacteria.  
Ellie: At the end of the day, we believe that if the moral values and the depths of the firm are there and portfolio companies are aligned, we’re going to continue to be well positioned to make a significant impact.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The views of the interviewee of this article do not necessarily represent the views of First Republic Bank. This information is governed by our Terms and Conditions of Use.