April 20, 2024
One Man's Trash...

Photo: eSmart Recycling

Tony Selvaggio launched an electronics recycling company three years after immigrating to Tampa from Venezuela. His company uses some of its proceeds to refurbish computers for kids and families lacking access.

NextGen

One Man's Trash...

A Tampa Bay electronics recycler is helping to bridge the digital divide by rehabbing cast-off computers.

Nancy Dahlberg | 12/7/2023

The Entrepreneur

Tony Selvaggio, 37
Founder/CEO
eSmart Recycling, Tampa

  • THE PROBLEM

Americans generate more than 6 million metric tons of electronic waste every year, of which only about a third is properly collected, documented and recycled. As devices decompose in landfills, hazardous compounds, including lead and mercury, can leach into groundwater. Meanwhile, more than 30 million people in the U.S. — 10% of the population — don't have a reliable source of technology and connectivity.

  • THE BACKSTORY

Born and raised in Venezuela, Tony Selvaggio graduated from college and moved to Tampa in 2011 to work at a scrap metal business. Within a few years, he was ready to start his own venture. “I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit," Selvaggio says. "Hispanics, I think by nature, are very entrepreneurial. When you come from a country that doesn't have a 10th of what you have here, then everything becomes an opportunity.”

Going with what he knew, Selvaggio started a scrap metal recycling business with just $8,000 in 2014. Over the next year, his interest in electronics recycling grew, as did his involvement in the community and he joined a young professionals' group from the Tampa Bay Chamber.

“Networking was such a foreign concept to me,” he says. But he embraced it and started approaching companies, offering to recycle their old computers.

The community jumped at the opportunity to help and Selvaggio was impressed by the condition of the equipment being donated: Many of the computers were only three to five years old, and he hesitated to toss them into the scrap heap.

Growing up in Venezuela, Selvaggio had used the same computer throughout high school, college and beyond. “I knew that I could scrap those computers and get a little bit of money, but it felt like you're throwing away some thing that still has way more value.”

Then, through a networking event, Selvaggio learned about Casa Chiapas, a Tampa area non-profit that serves hundreds of kids but had no computers. He gave 15 computers to their community center in 2016, which got him thinking: What if his company could figure out a way to recycle all the electronics that the community is getting rid of in a strategic way, and then allocate a portion of the proceeds to distribute refurbished computers to kids and families in Tampa Bay who don't have access to technology? “It's unfair that we're producing so much waste locally,” Selvaggio says.

Today, he says, “eSmart Recycling is a computer and electronics recycling company with the mission of making sure all kids and families in the community have access to technology and education.” As a social enterprise, a portion of eSmart’s recycling revenue funds that mission, narrowing the digital divide.

  • IMPACT

ESmart Recycling will keep half a million pounds of electronics out of landfills this year. Along with that environmental impact, the company has donated about 3,000 computers and devices to underserved communities to date, working with over 50 non-profits in five countries.

About 90% of the company’s work and impact has been in the Tampa Bay area. That includes a computer lab for the Salesian Boys and Girls Club in West Tampa set up this year in partnership with BayFirst Bank and ongoing sustainable programs that benefit the Hillsborough Education Foundation; the Uptown Tampa community tech program, AMRoC; Pace Center for Girls; Hope For Her; and other organizations. “This year, we will deploy 120 laptops through joint efforts in partnership with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council for a total of 500 devices scheduled to be deployed by the end of the year,” Selvaggio says.

ESmart, now a team of 20, was one of 12 companies nationwide and the only one in Florida to be selected for the Apple Impact Accelerator this year. As part of the program, Selvaggio will have an opportunity to pitch for the tech giant’s business as it works to achieve carbon neutrality across its manufacturing supply chain by 2030.

  • COMMUNITY SUPPORT

”This community welcomed me with open arms,” he says. Participating in a Tampa Bay Chamber program called Startup Scholars in 2015 helped Selvaggio prepare for acceptance to the chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator for companies generating at least half a million dollars in revenue. “Because of that, we were able to get into the SLEI (Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative) at Stanford University, and because of that program, we applied to Apple, so everything is connected. Everyone in the community was rooting for us, opening doors, trying to make it happen.”

  • WHAT’S NEXT

ESmart aims to have 40 community collection points for electronics recycling in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, up from about a dozen now. It is launching a program in conjunction with the St. Petersburg Innovation District to add 10 to 15 more drop-off sites.

“Getting selected for the Apple program was a boost of confidence,” Selvaggio says. “If we were able to pitch to Apple, then there's no company that we can’t pitch to. We're going to create custom plans for other companies and keep focusing on our pilot programs, expanding our network of community collection partners, and executing on our mission.”

Tags: NextGen, NextGen

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