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Growing ‘Green’ Start-Up Focused on Recycling is Poised to Expand

Posted on March 10, 2011

By Cara Baruzzi, Register Business Editor

After about nine months in business, a New Haven start-up firm that pays consumers to recycle unwanted electronics is expanding the concept to companies, aiming to help the area business community while at the same time growing its own reach and work force.

YouRenew.com, launched in March, is a Web site that promotes recycling old or unwanted electronics. With a staff of about 15 workers, the company is preparing to move from its Yale Entrepreneurial Institute incubator space, at 282 York St. in New Haven, into about 4,000 square feet of space at 25 Science Park in January.

As the company grows physically, into bigger space and a larger staff, it also is expanding its offerings, according to co-founder Rich Littlehale.

The company recently was touted on a worldwide scale when Littlehale, 23, was honored at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. Last month he was chosen from an original pool of 1,500 applicants worldwide as the second-place student entrepreneur in the word — the top finisher among applicants from the United States.

“That was a cool experience,” he said of the competition, in which he told the story and business approach of YouRenew to judges on first a regional level, at a competition in New York City, and then on a global scale at the worldwide competition in Kansas City, Mo.

Here’s how YouRenew works: visitors to the site are asked to identify the type of device they want to sell — an iPod, BlackBerry, cell phone or laptop, for example — and answer several questions about it, such as whether it has been damaged.

YouRenew.com then generates a price offer to buy the item, which the user may accept or reject. Users who accept the price offered by the site can print a prepaid shipping label and send the item to the company. In return, the company will pay the user by either check or through an online PayPal account, depending on the user’s preference.

That concept is now being broadened to reach a business customer base with the new site CorporateRenew.com. The site, which functions similarly to YouRenew, aims to make it easier for companies to unload and recycle unwanted devices.

“We’re really trying to make this happen in Connecticut and Greater New Haven,” said Littlehale, a senior at Yale University who founded the company with friend and fellow Yale student Bob Casey. The effort will focus on this region initially before potentially spreading to other areas.

“We really do think this is a service that helps companies,” Littlehale said.

At this point, CorporateRenew — which like YouRenew is part of a broader company called TwigTek LLC — can recycle companies’ cell phones and certain laptops. However, the company works with another firm called We Recycle that can handle all other types of business’ electronics.

Littlehale and Casey derived the concept for the Web sites from their own daily lives.

“We had a bunch of old stuff and didn’t know what to do with it,” said Littlehale, adding there are few cost-effective options for people looking to recycle devices. “It was a highly inefficient market and it wasn’t convenient for people.”

At the same time, Littlehale knew he wanted to start a “green” business, one with an environmental focus.

“Rich has a sense of optimism and a vision for the scale and scope of YouRenew that is contagious,” said Jim Boyle director of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. “Rich’s entrepreneurial accomplishments and the growing success of YouRenew has been a tangible example to students of what can come from just a simple idea.”

The upcoming move to Science Park will allow YouRenew and CorporateRenew to grow further. Littlehale said the company is seeking to hire additional business development specialists as well as workers with technological knowledge.

The Science Park community has a heavy presence of newer companies and Yale affiliations.

“There are other companies like us, who are either start-ups or in their growth phase,” Littlehale said, adding YouRenew hopes to learn and gain insight from fellow tenants in the building. “(The move) will allow us to grow quicker and provide a better process to take on more devices.”

Littlehale said he has long been interested in entrepreneurial endeavors. He previously founded Party for a Cause, a nonprofit — which he no longer runs — that encouraged college students at Yale and other schools to throw parties to benefit charitable causes.

Recently, with both Littlehale and Casey focusing some of their effort on finishing their education, the company hired a chief executive officer to help manage the business.

“We’re youthful and energetic, but experience and wisdom is always very helpful,” Littlehale said.

Guy Minetti first got involved with YouRenew as an advisor to one of the company’s investors. Upon learning more about the business, he became a part-time consultant for it before more recently becoming CEO.

“I’m impressed by the social conscience of the effort,” Minetti said, adding the company has considerable growth potential. “There will be a growing need for businesses, consumers and manufacturers to be more in touch with the life cycle of electronic devices.”

Before coming to YouRenew, Minetti ran a consulting company that advised businesses on corporate finance and strategic planning issues.

He was drawn to YouRenew, he said, by “the vision, the passion and the energy of the founders and the employees here.”

Cara Baruzzi can be reached at cbaruzzi@nhregister.com or 203-789-5748.

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