They will defend what’s rightfully yours.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
“Originally, we were a retail phone repair company called Genius Phone Repair,” explains Garry VonMyhr, Co-Founder and CEO of Tech Defenders, an award-winning company helping school districts maximize the value of their aged or used technology, specializing in refurbishing and repurposing mobile devices.
“We operated out of Grandville and one day Zeeland Public Schools came to us with several broken iPads and asked if we could fix them,” says Garry.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“[Various factors] showed us a large gap in the repair industry at that moment,” he says. “We saw that schools had no real solution for broken devices that they use in the education of their students.”
Garry and his team began to reach out to more schools and offered their support, “which resulted in creating a whole new business and eventually propelled us into industries we didn’t even know existed at the time.”
‘With at-home learning on the rise, there will be an even greater wave of creative solutions to meet the needs of students.’
Over 150 highly skilled technicians and support staff take every device they receive through a robust inspection process; they process nearly 50,000 laptops, tablets, and other devices per month before putting it back into the hands of end-users. Their process includes data erasure, cleaning, repairing, and final testing before they sell it back into secondary markets. They serve more than 800 partners worldwide and their conscientious company has become experts in market value, secure device processing, and global logistics.
With a focus on sustainability, data security, and employee safety, they are recent honorees of The EdTech Awards 2020. In this interview, Garry responds to a number of areas of concern for educators and offers his insights and what he’s done to address them.
What mission or purpose has driven you forward in the development of your offerings?
Everyone deserves access to technology, yet we are aware that there exists a digital divide. Our mission is to change that. We live in a time where hand-held technology continues to evolve and shape our lives and entire communities of people. It unites the world and provides education, communication, and collaboration. All too often, these devices are disposed of as trash when they are considered too slow, too old, or simply too broken to use. Our ITAD (buying & selling used devices), repair, and donation programs all work to support this mission to place devices back into a user’s hands. By doing so, our hope is that technology can continue to provide value and enrich someone’s life cost-effectively.
At the same time, by elongating the life of devices, we are also able to significantly reduce e-waste. In 2019 alone, we are proud to share we were able to keep 496 tons of devices out of landfills.
‘In 2019 alone, we are proud to share we were able to keep 496 tons of devices out of landfills.’
What went into the development of your products/services; could you provide a highlight or two?
Buyback: We started to see another opportunity to emerge shortly after officially launching Tech Defenders, which was ITAD or IT Asset Disposition. Simply put, ITAD is buying and selling used devices and we’ve formally coined as our Device Buyback Program. This is the side of the business that really blew up, and we found it really met the needs of our customers. There are greater demands on educators to use devices for learning so it’s imperative they have the latest models to support it. We provide that opportunity by purchasing all of their products in a safe, eco-friendly way. We’ve even acquired industry certifications (R2, ISO 14001, ISO 45001, ISO 9001) to demonstrate our safety standards when it comes to data security and sustainable practices.
Repair: We focus on providing repair for schools and constantly try to find different, more innovative ways to repair devices. At the start, we didn’t have the budget to spend on ‘clean rooms’ or big state-of-the-art machines like our competitors were buying, so we relied on our employees. This worked really well for us, and I think a big reason that we made our repair service a scalable solution was that we made space for our technicians and repair experts to test out and try different things. We’ve excelled in our ability to provide quick and quality repairs at an affordable price.
What highlights from your past inform your current approach?
We learned we need to be agile in this industry from the start. When we decided to add Buyback as a service offering, it was a response to our customers’ needs. We are so grateful we took the leap and listened to our customers. We’ve modified the program over time by offering a White Glove Pickup service, internal credit options, extensive detailed reconciliation reporting, & more. If educators are being asked to innovate in the way they teach, then we stand alongside and ask them and ourselves how we can support that change.
What does it mean to be honored in The EdTech Awards with finalist and winner statuses for your work?
We’ve always been a big fan of EdTech Digest and the value they bring to this industry. This award allows us to be part of something great, among fellow companies that are also positively influencing this space. I’ve learned a lot about the education technology industry from EdTech Digest over the years and feel honored to get any kind of recognition from the publication. This is a great privilege for me, my company, but most importantly, my operations staff who are the backbone of the services we offer.
What is technology’s role in education, generally speaking?
In 2020, we are tech people raising a generation of tech people that will know more about technology than we could even dream of. Tech’s role in education is really to lay the foundation for our future by building competence in the youth. It is showing them how to use technology for almost everything, and soon it will run everything we do. We are grateful to be a part of the fastest-growing industry there is: technology.
From your perspective, what is the state of education today?
The rise of Covid-19 has further cemented the need for technology in the education space. Things are different now for students and educators that are relying on e-learning and having to manage workloads while the student is not physically in the classroom. The current state of the world has changed education forever.
With current events, what are some highlights and comments you have about the need for your services, and what positive steps you are taking to help learning continue?
We’ve recently implemented a Safe Device Return Program to our services to assist schools with their device retrieval process from students so they can sell or repair their devices safely and easily.
What advice do you have for others interested in using technology or working in technology, looking to improve learning and the education sector?
The biggest piece of advice would be to listen to your customers. Selling something that doesn’t meet the needs of customers will never work, and staying stagnant in your product offerings will lead to the same fate. If you’re in the technology industry, it’s essential to look for ways to innovate your process and your services.
‘The biggest piece of advice would be to listen to your customers.’
What do you see just ahead in the near and short term future regarding education, learning and technologies?
What I see coming is new and unique technology entering the classroom (virtual or in-person). Whether it’s the use of social platforms for new educational programming or gaming systems to test students. With at-home learning on the rise, there will be an even greater wave of creative solutions to meet the needs of students.
Thank you for your time and all the great insight, Garry; anything else you care to add or emphasize?
We are passionate about being a partner. If we can’t assist with our service offerings, we work hard to assist with our knowledge in the space. We’ve had many schools reach out and ask our opinion on the best computer to buy or easy repairs to do in-house. Although we love schools to use our services, if it doesn’t make sense, then we want to help where we can. That for us is most important.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org