The first thing that Tony Selvaggio did after his company was announced as winner of the Hillsborough Business Pitch Competition at the county’s Access to Capital event was stand up and hug his mother.
Selvaggio, a Venezuelan-born startup business owner in Hillsborough County, was inspired to start an e-recycling program at local schools after volunteering to speak during the Great American Teach-In about what happens to electronics after we throw them away.
Students as young as second graders “really got it,” Selvaggio notes. After a discussion about consumer electronics like printers and old computer towers, Selvaggio asked the second graders to share their takeaways.
“One little fellow stood up and said, ‘Well, we’re throwing away precious metals and resources,’ ” Selvaggio recalls. “That information needs to be out there. That outreach needs to be done. It’s all a behavior change process.”
Tampa supports startups and small business
In Dec 2014, around 60 local entrepreneurs and small business owners pitched their ideas for a chance to win the business competition’s cash prize. Four were selected as finalists.
Along with Selvaggio’s company, Scrap on Spot, finalists also included Stuart Pinnock’s Life Enabling Technologies, a company focused on wheel chair enhancement. Pinnock proposed an easily detachable tray table and robotic arm to retrieve backpacks for wheelchair users.
Luther Palmer of LuBotics LCC presented an engaging and advanced many-legged robot, which flashed small bright lights as it scuttled across stage. The robot could be used to climb into small, dangerous places where it is too dangerous to send humans.
Both startup companies are affiliated with the University of South Florida, which event presenter Rhys Williams called “the crown jewel of the area.”
“It’s just bursting with tech talent!” he says.
The fourth finalist was Kyle Chastain’s US Filtermaxx Centrifuges, a company that focuses on small, powerful centrifugal filtration systems for used cooking oil.
Each of the three finalists was presented with a $1,000 award “due to overwhelming private sector support,” says Hillsborough County Economic Development Director Lindsey Kimball.
Life Enabling Technologies also received a “People’s Choice Award” for $500. Small Business Development Center manager Carol Johns suggested the award to inspire local small businesses to vote for their peers.
Johns works from Hillsborough County’s Entrepreneur Collaborative Center to provide startups as small as one individual through to revenue-producing small businesses with assistance through consulting and training.
“The Summit was great,” she says, “and I look forward to doing it again.”
Two additional “Vision” awards for $1,000 each were presented to Life Enabling Technologies and LuBonics by New World Angels during the event.
New World Angels is “a group of private investors dedicated to providing equity capital to early-stage entrepreneurial companies in Florida,” explains Ken Jones, Industry Strategic Initiatives Manager for Hillsborough County Economic Development.
Educating students through e-recycling
New World Angels initially pledged $5,000 to award the winner of the pitch competition, but private donations allowed the grand prize to be doubled to $10,000.
Scrap on Spot should be able to place around 30 e-recycling bins at participating schools thanks to that prize money.
Schools are “very receptive” to e-recycling bins, Selvaggio says. “The need is ever-present.”
“It’s very easy and convenient to put a printer in the trash. Unless you understand why you shouldn’t do it, then you’re not gonna stop doing it,” he says. “So we start by educating. And what better place to start educating than in schools?”
After the collection of scrapped electronics, hardware is either remarketed (if it still works), or stripped and decommissioned, with components sold off piece by piece.
“You recover the aluminum, the copper, the steel – all the precious or rare metals. They all have value,” Selvaggio explains.
For Scrap on Spot, guaranteeing data security makes privacy as big a priority as hardware.
“We shred and eliminate all of the data that comes to our facility,” Selvaggio says. “Privacy is a huge concern. We go through a seven-tier process with each hard drive in order to eliminate all of the information and make it virtually unrecoverable.”
Scrap on Spot, located at 7826 Causeway Boulevard Unit C, launched in Feb 2014.
“We were struggling a little bit,” Selvaggio explains. “We are a startup – we’re bootstrapping. This will definitely give us a huge boost.”
The “Access to Capital” Summit was held Jan 15, 2015, at the Sheraton Tampa East. Judges for the event included Pilar Bernd, president of The Bernd Group; Dr. Stephanie Thomason, associate dean of the Skyes College of Business at the University of Tampa; New World Angels member John Clark; and Vicki Parker, SVP of Wells Fargo.