Industry Watch

Cleaning house: A Tech Dump employee sorts it out

A solution of sorts

How Tech Dump is providing second chances for more than just electronics

By Caitlin Hill
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

When Josh Wilson started working for Tech Dump, he was looking for a second chance after spending time in prison for a felony conviction. Two years later, in 2012, he “graduated” from Tech Dump to outside employment, and today he manages his own business.
Based in Golden Valley, Tech Dump is a self-funding business enterprise of Jobs Foundation, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit founded in 2010 to provide marketable skills and employment to economically disadvantaged individuals.
“The impact Tech Dump made on my life was dramatic,” says Wilson. “It gave me the opportunity to be more productive in society, to pay my bills, and be with my family.” 
Since its founding in 2011, Tech Dump has garnered a long list of clients, including Cargill, Bachman’s, and Boston Scientific, to name a few. 
For clients, it costs nothing to drop off old electronics with Tech Dump, which also offers free pickup if the project is big enough. Tech Dump’s revenue comes primarily from the sale of materials separated out during the electronic tear-down process. 
Tech Dump workers disassemble things like computers, printers, and phones and sort materials into groups, such as plastics, glass, metals, and circuit boards. Tech Dump then sells those materials to a trusted recycler known to follow environmentally correct recycling procedures. 
Electronic waste is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the U.S. Incorrect disposal of old electronics is so harmful to the environment that it’s illegal in Minnesota and a number of other states. What’s normally seen as a growing problem, however, becomes a solution of sorts through Tech Dump.
“The more product we have to run through the company, the more jobs that can be created,” says Tech Dump co-founder George Lee. “We don’t think electronics will be going away anytime soon.”
Tech Dump’s steady growth supports that notion. In 2011, the venture recycled 110,000 pounds of electronics, followed by 600,000 in 2012, and 2 million last year. It’s hoping for 4 million this year.
“As much as people want to get rid of their electronics, one of the big factors is that it’s free,” says Tom McCullough, executive director and co-founder of Tech Dump. “Once people understand the mission and the funding mechanism, they become our best ambassadors.” 
Another selling point: Tech Dump provides safe and secure data destruction, using erasure methods that are compliant with standards set by the Department of Defense and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
One of Tech Dump’s first clients was the software company Activision, which has an office in Bloomington and quickly became a repeat customer. Office manager Monica Hill learned about Tech Dump through an online search and was pleased with the level of service she received.
“The most important thing to me is customer service,” she says. “Tech Dump team members are professional, courteous, and easy to work with. The added bonus is knowing our equipment is being disposed of in a safe and secure manner.” 
The origins of Tech Dump can be traced back to Internet sales company Probus Online, where McCullough and Lee met about 10 years ago. The two had become proficient at generating online sales, but they started thinking about ways they could use their skills to make the world a better place. (It’s through savvy SEO and Google Ad Words campaigns that many customers learn of Tech Dump.)
The seed of their idea came from learning about the difficulty that a job applicant had in finding work because of some “things in his background that prevented him from getting a job,” says Lee. “We gave him a [warehouse] job, and he appreciated it. So, we said, ‘How can we do this?’” 
The two founded the nonprofit Jobs Foundation in April 2010, where they started by auctioning off donated goods online. They soon sensed there was an opportunity in electronics recycling. As a test, they held a collection event for electronics at the West End in St. Louis Park — and filled two 53-foot semi-trailers. “That’s when we thought, maybe there’s something to this,” Lee says. 
Today, Tech Dump creates reliable jobs for people that lack job experience or have something in their past that might make them less desirable employees in the eyes of other businesses. For example, they might be in recovery for drug addiction, or have served time in a federal or state facility. “The biggest issue is that they may have never had a regular job,” McCullough says. 
Tech Dump finds employees through organizations such as the Salvation Army, Hospitality House, and Twin Cities Rise, as well as through local probation officers. 
Through working at Tech Dump, employees learn a variety of skills that will serve them in the future — how to interact in a business setting, how to do different types of warehouse work (like operating a forklift), and how to provide high-quality customer service. Tech Dump provides accountability for employees through daily staff meetings, on-the-job training, and mentorship relationships. 
But in addition to providing employment and valuable life skills, what Tech Dump brings many of its employees is hope. 
“There are guys who are now paying child support they never could … guys buying their first cars and apartments, guys moving into homes, and three who have gotten married,” McCullough says. “All of these things that the rest of the world enjoys in life, they’re beginning to do.”