Upcycled Computers For Under $100

Planac, a Brazilian PC assembler, created a new business model that upcycles old computers into cheap PCs for educational purposes.

In the fifties, when Jair Martinkovic was nine years old and lived in a tenement house, he began selling cans and bottles to earn some money. But instead of just selling the products, he added value by transforming them into creative artifacts and decorative pieces. This was the foundation for the business model he would develop decades later.

Gifted with an innate talent for commerce, he managed to pay for his education with his earnings as a shop attendant and got a degree in accounting. Years later, he started a data processing company, which he named Planac. Some more years went by and Planac started assembling and selling PCs, for which sometimes old computers were accepted as part of the payment.

Jair then realized that many companies didn’t know what to do with their obsolete (though functional) equipment, left to rust in some deposit room and occupying precious space. That’s when he remembered his first source of money and identified an opportunity to turn waste into profit.

Upcycling those machines was a natural move for the entrepreneur, who proposed a deal where companies gave him the old PCs at no cost, and in exchange he gave them some of them back, fully functional and remanufactured. A major bank, Bradesco, had twenty thousand old PCs in stock and was the first to accept the offer. The computers that were upcycled and returned to Bradesco were not destined to the bank operation but employed in educational projects.

“The most expensive part, we managed to get for free” Jair said. Under these circumstances, selling them for R$199,00 (just under a hundred dollars) was not only viable, but profitable.

Martinkovic rented a 1800m2 warehouse and recruited and trained 22 youngsters from a nearby slum. With all the production process set up, the next step was to find buyers. Jair first persuaded a labor union into financing the machines for their associates, and now he convinced a university to buy his product and resell it to the students in 24 monthly installments, which start as low as US$5 a month.

Of course there are many limitations. The upcycled PCs don’t have a strong processing power and run on simpler, less demanding open source software. It’s not enough for games, video or more complex tasks, but it’s suitable for education and basic Internet operations – and the PCs also come with a one-year warranty.

Planac does not have the necessary structure to reproduce this model in mass scale and will always depend on donations to keep it going, but as long as Brazil doesn’t have a decent policy for technological waste, this is a great – and profitable – alternative, one that also promotes digital inclusion.

[Via Catraca Livre]

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