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Trash into treasure

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  • | 11:00 a.m. September 9, 2016
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In 2014, Tony Selvaggio was already a successful young entrepreneur.

The native Venezuelan, who had only lived in Tampa since April 2011, had met the girl of his dreams and was over a year into running his own scrap metal business. He started with $8,000, and in three years had surpassed $250,000 in revenues.

But something wasn't quite right. He says his work life felt “boring and empty.” It didn't have purpose.

Selvaggio's Scrap On Spot business picked up recycled computers and electronics, oftentimes going to clients' homes to collect boxes of old cell phones. Growing up, Selvaggio knew people who were mugged and almost killed over a cell phone. It got him thinking, “On one side of the coin, someone was ready to sell their trash; on the other, we have people dying for this stuff.”

That's when Selvaggio decided to change the name — and direction — of the business. He wanted to turn someone's trash into treasure, and impact the world while doing it. He renamed the business eSmart Recycling. He focused on using recycled products to build tech labs for kids without access to technology.

The company has grown to five employees, with a goal to hire two more by January. Selvaggio works with 20-30 clients a month, including notable names such as Northwestern Mutual, Caspers Co., Prince Contracting and Digital Brainz. The company's core client base consists of small to medium-sized businesses with about 30 employees and a closet full of IT equipment.

eSmart charges $75 for a pickup, about the cost of refurbishing a laptop. After destroying any sensitive data or hard drives, eSmart techs look at the old technology and “find the right use for it: either export, resale or downstream,” Selvaggio says.

Selvaggio's biggest challenge? The industy has a low barrier to entry.

“Anyone with a pickup truck can say we'll recycle,” he says. “A lot of the big players are established companies...How the hell can we compete with the behemoths of companies?”

Another obstacle is the potential for a long sales cycle. Selvaggio says the company's mission, sometimes, counters that obstacle. “There's a misconception that you have to be a Fortune 500 to give back,” Selvaggio says. “That's not true.”

eSmart has set up seven tech labs thus far. Six are located in the U.S., three of which are in Tampa, at Casa Chiapas, the DreamCenter in Ybor City and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Perhaps most rewarding for Selvaggio is the tech lab eSmart started at a school in his Venezuelan hometown. In total the company has provided labs with 146 laptops, which are estimated to reach 4,500 children.

The company is now working on building its export arm to secondary markets in Latin America, the Caribbean and East Asia. “The state of schools in the United States isn't the same resource-wise as other countries like Mexico, Venezuela, Sri Lanka and Haiti,” Selvaggio says. “Powerful difference is easier because the impact is so much greater.”

For exporting challenges, such as shipping full container loads and remarketing materials in other markets, Selvaggio is currently in discussions with a number of groups in Tampa. That includes area banks, Port Tampa Bay, the Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center. “There's only so much you can resell in this market,” Selvaggio says, but in other places, that same technology still has a lifespan.

Selvaggio says he's accomplished the easy part of the industry, “monetizing someone's junk and recognizing the value of it.” Now he just wants to “put it in the hands of people who appreciate it.”

Gaining attention
Tampa entrepreneur Tony Selvaggio's eSmart Recycling has recently won multiple awards and recognition, including:

Hillsborough Business Pitch Competition, 2015

Hispanic Business Initiative Foundation Success Story, 2015

Key Person of Influence Pitchfest winner, 2016

Honorary distinction from Universidad Bicentenaria de Aragua (Selvaggio's alma mater) 2016

Honorary recognition from the Mexican Consul in Orlando 2016

1 Million Cups Best Overall Pitch Finalist 2016


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