Long Beach-based Human-I-T has donated more than $50 million in computers since its beginning in 2012.
Not bad for a company that was founded with only $500 start-up money.
Gabe Middleton, co-founder and CEO of Human-I-T, graduated from Long Beach State in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but then changed his mind and thought about a career in law, but nixed that as well.
“I wanted to do something that combined my interests in philanthropy and technology,” Middleton said. So, 10 years ago, he and friend James Jack co-found Human-I-T, a nonprofit. “Our goal was to disrupt the $40 billion a year electronic waste recycling industry.”
Middleton said his company’s mission is to shrink the digital divide by taking electronic waste and teaching people how to fix broken computers instead of sending those parts to recycling centers. Then, they take the repurposed technology and connect it to veterans, low-income families and individuals who do not own a computer, free of charge.
Human-I-T’s latest venture is a national partnership with credit card company Visa to provide computers and internet access to small business owners, students and low-income families in Pueblo, Colo., and Atlanta. Free remote tech support will be provided over the next year as well. Recipients also receive free enrollment in Visa’s financial literacy program.
“Our collaboration is called the Digital Empowerment Program,” Middleton said. “The launch took place in both cities in late May. We donated 200 computers to small business owners and we will be donating 2,000 more over the next year with more cities to come.”
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), more than 21 million people in the United States don’t have access to the internet. Low-income families and seniors are impacted the most. In fact, more than 40% of adults in households with incomes below $30,000 don’t have broadband internet, according to the Pew Research Center.
“To the best of my knowledge, more than 70 million pounds of e-waste currently make up over 70% of all toxic waste in world,” Middleton said. “We want to see that number drop.”
Middleton said his company’s first location was in Glendale, where he convinced a phone repair shop owner to let his partner and him work in the lobby. Now, more than 150 employees work out of a warehouse, rebuilding computers.
The first real break for Human-I-T came when the company started putting its refurbished office equipment for sale on eBay. Middleton said eBay took notice of its popularity on the website and reached out to do a partnership. While they still sell equipment on its eBay site, Hitconnect.org is the website where nonprofits and families that meet stringent guidelines can go to request free computers with internet access.
“We stock both Macs as well as Chromebooks and Windows devices,” he said. “Whatever they need, we can get it. When we do a distribution, we try to keep everything as uniform as possible. We run out of Macs a lot. Our corporate donors most often give PCs, but right now, the Chromebooks are the highest demand because that’s what schools are using.”
Middleton, who has lived in Long Beach since 2008, said the city is far ahead of other major metropolitan areas when it comes to digital inclusion.
“We are still doing work in Long Beach and in the future, more digital equity will be coming to the city,” he said. “Long Beach is really ahead of everyone. We have a director of digital inclusion; virtually every other city in the country doesn’t have that, so that’s what makes our city special. Atlanta and Pueblo need all the help they can get. Major metro cities have problems with digital inclusion and we don’t want to turn away from them.”
The company started out in 2012 with the name Computers for a Cause but had to drop it when they found out someone had a trademark on that name. A marketing group offered to do pro bono work for Middleton and came up with Human-I-T, hyphens and all.
“We get thousands of emails and phone calls a month asking, ‘what does upload and download mean?’ ‘What is an ISP?’ ” Middleton said. “The people that come to us, don’t care about the newest or greatest, they want something they can do basic internet work.
“And our name says it all,” he added. “We are all human. We do IT. And it’s so close to humanity.”