TAMPA, Fla. ( WFLA) — A local entrepreneur created a business model that makes social change by recycling old technology and creating computer labs for children without access to computers.
Nestled in Tampa off Causeway Boulevard sits a 15,000 sq. ft. warehouse filled with what some may see as junk.
“Waste is not waste, it’s value,” said Tony Selvaggio, CEO of eSmart Recycling. “All of this equipment it’s in transit.”
Beat up TVs, throwback machines, old school flip phones and broken laptops fill the warehouse. What might look like trash is actually being used to change the lives of children in need. eSmart Recycling takes old technology, fixes it up, sells them, then 20 to 30 percent of their proceeds go toward refurbishing old laptops to create computer labs for children in need.
Alex Ruthman works at eSmart and refurbishes the computers.
“I do my best to give them the best laptop they can get,” Ruthman said.
Ruthman is from Venezuela and says having a hand in giving back to his community means everything to him.
“I can help people because back in my country it was impossible, so to be able to do it now, it feels right,” Ruthman said.
With a team of 35 people, eSmart is able to create computer labs for kids without access to technology and computers.
“We had very little when I was a little kid,” Selvaggio said. “I did not come from a wealthy family.”
Selvaggio was born and raised in Venezuela.
“When you grow up and the only thing you know is the hustle,” Selvaggio said. “The only path to real wealth is through your own business and what you can provide for your family, there’s no such thing as climbing up in a company, that doesn’t exist.”
So in 2014, after immigrating to the U.S., he opened eSmart Recycling. It was originally all business until he heard about a non-profit serving children in need. That non-profit had 300 students in need of computers.
“Recent immigrant, best country in the world, you don’t have computers to serve your kids? I couldn’t fully understand that,” Selvaggio said.
So he created a space where his business could give back to communities. Since 2014, eSmart has donated nearly 2500 computers to six countries and across Tampa Bay. They currently have six active labs, including the AMRoC Fab Lan located in University Mall, which helps students learn about engineering, robotics and manufacturing.
“It’s a privilege,” said Maitreyi Sarkar, a student in the AMRoC Program. “We get to learn how to do cad, programming, access to all this equipment is the only reason we can build these robots.”
Sarkar says Selvaggio’s giving has inspired her to one day give back.
“It’s definitely inspired me,” she said. “I plan to come back and volunteer with the program and one day I hope I can donate technology to kids learning in this field.”
Each computer Selvaggio donates can touch four kids’ lives. Since 2014, he has made a difference in at least 10,000 children, many who look like him.
“As a Hispanic, only being in the country for 10 years, it’s very rewarding to tell a story that comes from a perspective where I can tell a kid, I know exactly what you’re going through, I know the limitations, look at me, I’m very similar to you, we have the same skin color,” he said. “I’m hoping that if they see me telling them you can do it and this is how you do it, it will make a bigger impact because it will come from a place that they recognize.”
eSmart has partnered with people like the St. Pete Innovation District, Pace CEnter for Girls, Hillsborough Education Foundation, WEst Florida Foster Care and more. They have also set up computer labs in Haiti, Venezuela, Peru, Nigeria, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
eSmart does business with corporations, non-profits and accepts donations from people in the community. For more details, click here.