For Tony Selvaggio business has “always been a search for purpose.” So when he started eSmart Recycling in February 2014 as commercial metal recycling company he found that the industry’s emphasis on price over loyalty left him feeling empty. The company, founded as Scrap On Spot, was quickly profitable but Selvaggio, like many social entrepreneurs believed that evolving the business to provide a social benefit would be an important and rewarding challenge.
His breakthrough moment came when a woman brought a large number of cell phones to recycle. Being from Venezuela, Selvaggio understood the value and potential of these “old to us” devices in developing countries where people get mugged and killed for them. “We are literally throwing away stuff that could mean something much more” says Selvaggio, about how this batch of phones inspired him take a deep look at electronics recycling.
Selvaggio notes, there are three R’s in recycling and that Recycling itself is “the best worst case scenario” after Reuse and Reduction. With electronics he saw an opportunity to empower people in other parts of the world while making a profit in the process. Selvaggio quickly added electronics recycling to his company’s services, partnering with Hillsborough County, which provided grant money in 2015 to help place community collection bins in convenient locations.
It was during last year that the company rebranded as eSmart Recycling to better position itself as an electronics recycler. While Selvaggio still deals in scrap metals the brand awareness for eSmart Recycling is important for long-term sustainable growth in an expanding industry.
Providing refurbished and donated electronics to low income populations has been a first step for eSmart as well as others in the industry. However, Selvaggio’s approach is different and aims to create sustainable impact on communities. The prime minister of Sri Lanka has invited eSmart to launch a pilot program that will not only supply 100 laptops but also a technology lab, training, and a curriculum. The pilot will be launched at a school in Colombo with two additional schools being evaluated for expansion of the program. Sri Lanka’s growing population has over 300 thousand new children enrolling in school each year.
To capitalize on the market potential with a sustainable program Selvaggio needed local partners on the ground in Venezuela. “We were able to secure a collaboration agreement with one the largest private schools in Venezuela,” says Selvaggio, “The Universidad Bicentenaria de Aragua, my alma mater.” He will travel there in June to set up two technology labs with 25 laptops in a school with over 1,000 students. Selvaggio says, “Their current equipment is over 15 years old, unbelievable!”
Here in Florida, Selvaggio is expanding eSmart and becoming an integral part of Tampa Bay’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. “I’m very passionate about community driven entrepreneurship,” says Selvaggio. “For me it’s always been a search for purpose, more than profit.” That community drive has gotten Selvaggio involved with TechStart Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay WaVE and the Hillsborough Education Foundation among other organizations. Selvaggio’s efforts continue to be recognized by the community with eSmart’s receiving a 2016 Sustainable Business Award from The Sustany Foundation and The University of Tampa Center for Ethics.
Selvaggio’s plans for the future include the growth of his six person team and the establishment of scalable business processes. Creating a sustainable culture will allow him to work “on” eSmart and not become stuck “in” the business – a trap for so many bottom line focused CEOs. For Selvaggio these steps are critical to “building a bridge between being a business and community leader” while being effective at both.