Young entrepreneur shows innovation has no age

By: Hannah Toole Wednesday May 30, 2012 2 comments Tags: Brennan Zelener, FastTrac TechVenture, Newaya, RMI, SAGE

Brennan Zelener dials in cell recycling business

By Hannah Toole


FORT COLLINS -- Brennan Zelener saw a growing need and decided to try to fill it: What do you do with those outdated or broken cellphones?

Zelener, 20, is a young entrepreneur and a senior at Colorado State University. He is passionate, enthusiastic and motivated to not only make a difference in his community but also to make a difference in the world.

Two years ago, Zelener started a cellphone refurbishing and recycling business out of his dorm room on campus. For an entire year, he worked out of his dorm -- running his company, going to school full-time and developing successful iPhone apps.

The focus of Zelener's company, Newaya Recycling, is locality and working towards creating a better community. Newaya Recycling buys old or broken smartphones and then refurbishes them for resale. They also collect other old cellphones and recycle them.

Zelener was troubled that many people were simply throwing their old phones away.

"If we can master cellphone recycling, it can lead to more electronics recycling," he said. "This is the future we are faced with as we continue creating and relying on electronics. We have to start now."

Zelener wants to change the way people think about recycling.  "The core issue is that so many people don't care," he said. "It is so difficult to change mindsets and people aren't going to change quickly. One thing you can do is make it exceptionally easy for people to recycle."

Zelener plans to make cellphone recycling easy by placing Newaya donation boxes in high-traffic places around Fort Collins. The first cellphone recycling box was recently installed at the Mugs Coffee Shop in Old Town.

It was evident from a young age that Zelener had the spirit of an entrepreneur, coupled with a passion to make a difference in the world. He grew up in Alaska, and in high school it was his dream to build solar, wind and hydro-electric chargers for iPhones.

Zelener said he developed an early perspective on entrepreneurship when he saw another talented fellow high school student push his ideas forward.

"I was blown away that he had recruited professional designers and programmers to start a company, without help or guidance from anyone," he said. "It shortened the gap in my mind about what was really possible if I just started trying things."

So trying things is exactly what he started doing, from creating websites to iPhone app development. He's even organized a group at the Rocky Mountain Innosphere in Fort Collins called Backyard Brainstorming, which lends creative insight to entrepreneurs'  ideas and companies.

This year, Zelener was the first CSU student to be accepted into the Innosphere, an incubator for start-up companies. He quickly got involved with RMI's FastTrac TechVenture business development and SAGE mentoring programs, utilizing those resources to help him develop his company.

Historically, the RMI has not focused much effort on student start-ups. But Mike Freeman, RMI CEO, said that's changing. "One of our strategic goals is to work more closely with student start-ups to continue to build our brand and relevancy across the spectrum of entrepreneurs and start-ups."

Freeman said having Zelener at RMI has been "a blast" because "he brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the organization."

Zelener also credits part of his success to the city of Fort Collins, which he says prides itself on fostering innovation and nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit.

"The community and energy in Fort Collins is so supportive of good start-up businesses," he said. "It's a wonderful place to test an idea because you know that idea will resonate with caring, sustainably-minded people."

In the past two years, Zelener's company --which was started with his savings -- has grown to become a sustainable business and an inspiration to all young entrepreneurs.

His short-term goal for Newaya is for it to be able to support his living expenses by the time he graduates next spring -- something that seems pretty likely to happen.
Hannah Toole

About the Author: Hannah Toole

Hannah Toole is an outdoor enthusiast and incredibly passionate about community development. She has fallen in love with the community in Fort Collins and plans to stay for a long time. She is the member relations coordinator at Cohere Community (a coworking office in town) and also the organizer of TEDxCSU.

Excellent article Hannah.

Brennan is one of my favorite new business peeps in Fort Collins. Fort Collins has already been made better for his efforts, and I can't wait to see what he accomplishes in the next 5 years!

- Nick Armstrong

Thanks Nick! Love to see the new kids on the block.

- Lee