As Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of this global media platform, I was delighted to have the opportunity not long ago to get acquainted with Tony Salvaggio, Founder of eSmart Recycling, who’s Mission it is to “recognize value where others see trash.” Tony and his team “transform an organization’s legacy equipment, excess inventory, and technology surplus into catalysts for change.” Many organizations have a plan in place to dispose of their old equipment. However, most of them fail to recognize the incredible opportunity that is hidden in that process to truly maximize its benefit; one that goes beyond purely the bottom line and has a positive impact in the company’s image, culture, metrics, social and environmental responsibility. Learn more about Tony’s inspiring journey as highlighted with our “WOW” Interview below.
We’d like to hear about your professional journey before launching eSmart.
I can clearly remember being in 3rd grade and bringing candy from home to school, trading the candy for stickers for The Lion King Album, and then reselling the stickers to the 6th graders for money. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset, and even though I’ve had several ventures throughout my life it was at around age 20 when I discovered the world of recycling. A friend of the family had a metal recycling plant and sort of got me involved in different areas of the process. I later ended up working for him for a while and then as a scrap metal buyer before launching eSmart Recycling in 2014. I had the opportunity to learn about hedging, spot trading, purchasing, cross-border logistics, and international markets; which eventually set up the foundation for what I am doing now.
Tell us about eSmart and the inspiration behind it.
eSmart Recycling’s mission is to turn legacy technology and surplus inventory from large companies into catalysts for change. We do this by setting up technology and sustainability academies for children on behalf of our partners, worldwide. The inspiration was to create a scalable system that would solve a social problem through a business model, one that would create added value to our partners beyond industry standards. We are a mission-driven company that hopes to become a role model for other organizations to help others think of social problems as an opportunity to leave their legacy, and to become stakeholders in the improvement of the quality of life of the community they serve.
When did you launch and what’s been your biggest challenge?
We started in 2014 and from day one, it has been an incredible experience. We had the opportunity to start our business in Tampa, a thriving city with a wonderful entrepreneurial ecosystem, and have been growing here ever since, in part, with the help of all of the amazing people we met along the way. One of the biggest challenges has been to merge the 2 propositions of doing business and doing good under one single offering.
A lot of people often think that you can do either one or the other, or that “philanthropy” is what you do when you have grown and are ready to “give back” to the community. In reality, I think that for businesses nowadays is the other way around, “philanthropy” is a force that needs to be measured and community impact is the opportunity for your business to be competitive.
It’s a behavior change process that will take a bit of time, but ultimately it will evolve naturally in the coming years.
What’s your everyday role?
The one I enjoy the most is being a Dad to my beautiful girls. Professionally, it depends on the stage of growth of the company. Naturally as a bootstrapping company when we started, it was literally a one-man show. As we evolved and our team grew my position also evolved from being hands-on to be more strategically focused on the next steps for the company. I enjoy being the creative and long-term thinker and planner. Ultimately, my role is to be the storyteller of the company and to showcase the work of our partners and their forward-thinking business philosophy, so we can all keep scaling the model and educate children in a sustainable way through technology.
What about your venture’s “social impact”?
For me, Social Impact means to be able to measure any improvements or results you have made in addressing social issues in the community, either individually or as a company. Our “social impact” goal is to be able to offer complementary education to be delivered with the use of technology (tablets or laptops) to children in the community with accessibility challenges. In order to accomplish this in a sustainable way, we bring along our partners (clients) and make them the key protagonists of the story and the impact. Each step we take forward we figure out ways to “close the loop” and make that impact even bigger and reach further. It does not and will not end with simply making the hardware accessible, but it will keep building on the different delivery mechanisms, tracking of the results, rewarding the children and the families for improving their metrics, and so on.
Any noteworthy surprises or ‘A-ha’ Moments so far?
The whole proposition of solving social problems through business models by itself became an “A-ha” moment for me, especially when I realized that a lot of people still don’t “get it”. I’ve had the opportunity to go to different countries and noticed that in developing economies, social enterprise models are virtually unheard of; that means we are in a prime position when it comes to discovering the number of opportunities that lie ahead.
What about outcomes/impact/success stories?
Over the past 3 years, we have deployed over 1,000 laptops and have a measurable footprint of close to 10,000 children with access to technology. We have worked in 5 countries, and all over our community in Tampa and in the US. Each time we deploy equipment, the reaction we get from the kids, the parents and the teachers is what makes it all worth it. There is a lot of work to be done, we are only getting started, but we have realized that most people are willing to do good and help beyond their means, only if they know how to do it. If the infrastructure is there, people will follow and join us, and that’s what we want to build, a powerful infrastructure that can turn a lot of people into stakeholders of community and social impact, with a measurable return on investment.
What’s next on the horizon?
A lot of things! We keep expanding our footprint for eSmart Recycling across the State of Florida and the SouthEast with partners that have joined our mission. We have also done a soft-launch of our proprietary educational tablets and learning platform called Tkiba and The Tkiba Project, we have also partnered with organizations in the state to launch sustainability academies and entrepreneurship programs for middle schoolers. Great things are coming.
How can our readers learn more/support your mission?
Our website is probably the best starting point (www.esmartrecycling.com) to get information about what we are up to. Our social media pages as well to keep tabs on our latest campaigns and initiatives. The best way to support our mission is to introduce our story and our model to socially conscious and responsible organizations who are looking to make a tangible impact in their communities. We still have over 30 million kids living in poverty in the US. We are only one phone call or email away.