In the lead-up to this year’s SB Innovation Open, we’re catching up with some of our favorite paradigm-disrupting startups from past years. This week, we have an update from SBIO 2013 finalist Isidore Electronics Recycling.
Our last encounter with SBIO finalist Isidore was fairly dramatic. Right before the SBIO finals in San Diego last year, the young company experienced a warehouse fire, forcing them to regroup and relocate in a short period of time.
However, last year’s video is proof that Isidore is a dedicated, resilient organization. Founder and CEO Kabira Stokes gave an impassioned pitch detailing her company’s mission, which is two-fold — recycling e-waste, and reducing the recidivism rate in Los Angeles by hiring, and providing on-the-job training for, formerly incarcerated Angelenos.
CM: Last time we chatted, you had a fire in your warehouse! Where are you based now and how did your team recover?
KS: June 2013 was a crazy month. We had an electrical fire, but we were very lucky and moved into a warehouse three days afterwards. We are still there, but we have been able to expand in the space. It was the hardest thing that I have ever had to do but it made us a tougher, more badass organization.
CM: I see that you're part of LA Cleantech Incubator****. How has that helped you?
KS: We aren't a tech company — we are in the world of Cleantech. We are the only company at LA Cleantech Incubator that looks at technology at the end of its life. We have all these great companies looking at electric cars, solar technology, etc but we are looking at what happens to these types of products at the end. Overall, LA Cleantech Incubator is amazing, and has been such a support. They have helped us with a business model, how to rebuild the team and how to have more of a sales plan.
CM: What is your most common challenge?
KS: Our biggest challenge is that we need more electronics through the door, which means the more people that I can hire. Also, there is always the challenge of processing electronics more efficiently and getting the most values from the process.
CM: Last year, one of your selling points was a commitment to contributing to the local LA economy — would you ever move into other cities or help franchises develop based on your model?
KS: We want to be the e-waste solution for Southern California but we also want to be a replicable model.
CM: Last year, you had secured some great partnerships, including MGM studios and Helms Bakery District. Have been able to acquire any new partnerships?
KS: We have gotten some great clients since SB – like American Apparel, Virgin Australia, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) – which has lent us more credibility. We are also about to launch a project with the LA Cleantech Incubator, the City of Los Angeles & the LA OIC. We are doing a big refurbishing project and donating computers to families in need.
CM: How has Isidore’s services impacted workers' lives?
KS: We have had no recidivism. One of our guys got his driver’s license back, enrolled in school to be an electrician and left Isidore. We also promoted the employee who I referenced in my pitch last year [who handed in money that he found in a register] to assistant manager. Our impact is having a place where these guys are welcome and can put their talent to work.
CM: Can you share some metrics? E.g., how much e-waste recycled since inception? How many new clients? Workers? Employee retention rate?
KS: We have recycled over 300 tons, have a staff of 8 and approximately 100 clients. Our goal is to increase our output to 300,000 lbs.
CM: What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?
KS: We have only been around two years but I would say — find really good advisors that you can call with anything, and also radical self-care. You need to keep exercising, or whatever is your outlet. You are driving the ship, so you are your company’s biggest asset and you need to make sure you don't burn out. So develop a team of confidants, and figure out how are you going to recharge yourself.
CM: Anything in particular that you would like to share with the SB community?
KS: Recycle your e-waste with me!