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Electronics recycling coming to a store near you

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EcoATM has come a long way from the Del Mar Starbucks where it was first dreamed up.

The company was born out of the caffeine-fueled brainstorming session of three technology veterans in 2008 and officially formed last year. A kind of CoinStar for electronics, the ecoATM is a kiosk that takes in old cell phones, and gives the customer back a credit that they can cash in. The kiosks are usually located in stores, and the stores will give customers cash for the ecoATM credit, with hopes that customers will then spend it in the store.

“We’re in the Westfield shopping center in North County Fair, and a store in Nebraska and in Kansas City,” said John Beane, the vice president of engineering for ecoATM. “We’re getting ready to deploy to a number of different stores in San Diego as well.”

The company’s Chief Marketing Officer Mark Bowles and Chief Operating Officer Michael Librizzi, along with their friend Pieter van Rooyen, came up with the concept of the company, and then assembled a team and sought funding. The company has won several venture capital competitions, including the San Diego Venture Group’s PitchFest and Connect’s Most Innovative Products.

Beane came to the company after 20 years in San Diego startups, with a focus on kiosks. He helped develop a kiosk for pharmacies that deploys subscriptions for a local company called Asteres Inc.

“I’m a startup junky and this is a great opportunity,” he said.

EcoATM talks with manufacturers, collectors and other buyers interested in old electronics and finds out what they’ll pay for different models in varying conditions. A price is then assigned to certain items. As of right now, Beane said the machine only accepts old phones, but the company will soon be moving into other electronics like mp3 players, GPS systems and even printers.

“We’ll take everything down the road,” he said.

EcoATM’s offices are located within EvoNexus, the incubator formed by CommNexus, a local technology trade group. Beane said the physical office that EvoNexus provides has been a great boon to the company, but the incubator has also afforded networking and public relations opportunities. The company got on television when Mayor Jerry Sanders came to visit the incubator.

“In the past few months we have gotten just an incredible amount of press,” Beane said.

There are other places people can go to get money for their old electronics, like certain Web sites. You can also donate old electronics at charity boxes. But Beane said manufacturers who use recycled parts don’t get enough volume from these sources, and that’s where ecoATM hopes to hit on a niche market.

“This process of giving the money back, the immediate gratification, just what we’ve seen in the short time that we’ve been out (has been key),” he said. “The volume is far in excess than what they’ve seen in these other online or charity-based options.”

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