Waste Not
Sprint Launches Encore Challenge to Find Smart Ways to Revamp Used Smartphones

Sprint today launched its Smartphone Encore Challenge — an attempt to inspire students to generate new ideas about how to revive old smartphones and their components. The competition — launched in partnership with Brightstar Corporations and HOBI International — calls upon students to come up with innovative ways to retrofit their old devices that could be scaled into a commercial business model. The Encore Challenge will be supported by Net Impact, the leading nonprofit that motivates younger generations to find sustainable ways to work within and beyond business.

With the continuous upgrading of older smartphone models, the EPA estimates that approximately 135 million mobile phones are thrown away every year, and only 11 percent of these are responsibly recycled by consumers. Sprint launched the contest in an attempt to tackle the ongoing issue of electronic waste, with the hope of inspiring students to find ways that these devices can be retrofitted profitably rather than going to landfill.

“At Sprint, we believe innovation is fundamental to creating positive change,” said Doug Michelman, SVP of Corporate Relations at Sprint. “We are in a unique position to provide resources and business support to entrepreneurial students who can give mobile phones a ‘next’ life. This challenge is just one example of our corporate responsibility efforts in action.”

The key challenge for the students is not only to brainstorm innovative ways of recycling the old smartphones into something new, but to also make it commercially viable. Most used smartphones in good condition are affordable and have a wide range of features that can be used for other means: most have components including GPS, cameras, gyroscopes, accelerometers and display, as well as being able to capture, process, store and transfer data. Sprint sees this as a market opportunity.

The Smartphone Encore Challenge opened for registration today for student teams in the US who are members of Net Impact’s undergraduate and alumni chapters across the country (with participation reserved for the first 25 team entries). Each team is required to present their product concept, business pitch and an optional video briefing, using revamped smartphones and accessories provided by Sprint and Brightstar.

“The Encore Challenge is an incredible opportunity for our Net Impact students to use their entrepreneurial business skills to help drive transformational change and positive social impact – the cornerstone of our mission,” said Liz Maw, CEO of Net Impact.

The contest winners will receive US$5,000, which is intended to allow them to attend a Startup Weekend workshop to help take their idea to the next level. They will also get strategic guidance from Sprint, Brightstar or HOBI executives to help to tighten their business model. The winner and two runners-up will be featured in a Net Impact “Issues in Depth” webinar on Earth Day.

Sprint has been an industry frontrunner in phone-recycling efforts. In 2013, the company clinched the Guinness World Record for the largest number of cellular phones recycled in one week, totalling an impressive 103,582 (more than double the previous record). A few months later it added to its Sprint Buyback Program by offering buyback credit on all phones to encourage trade-ins. It seems the company’s focus now is to go beyond the recycling element and turn used phones into other products that can be resold.

Other companies are trying to address the historic “planned obsolescence” model of smartphone design by instead designing modular devices that allow the consumer to add or replace components without discarding the whole unit. Companies such as Puzzlephone and Phonebloksare working to divide the smartphone structure into modules that can be upgraded or replaced independently to stop consumers from having to buy a new one every time a component breaks or the technology develops.

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