By Patty Fisher, June 20, 2008
The stately colonial house, complete with topiary flanking white pillars on the front porch, doesn't look like the headquarters of an e-waste recycling business.
Welcome to GreenMouse, not your typical company.
Evelyn O'Donnell, who runs GreenMouse (www.greenmouse.com) from her spacious Rose Garden home, wants your junk. Unwanted computers, printers, cell phones - she'll pick it all up for free. She'll try to find a new home for it. What she can't reuse, she'll sell to a recycler.
"Everything can be repurposed," she said confidently. "People just don't think hard enough about how to get rid of stuff."
But there's more to GreenMouse than recycling. O'Donnell started the company in 2004 with a specific purpose: to give her daughter a job.
Briana O'Donnell showed signs of developmental delays as an infant. She has trouble processing complex instructions and making decisions. After graduating from high school in 1999, she didn't have much success holding jobs.
Meanwhile, Evelyn and her husband, Dick, had retired from successful careers with Silicon Valley start-ups. Evelyn was busy with volunteer gigs, including serving on the board of Children's Musical Theater San Jose, but was looking for a new challenge.
A garage start-up
So in 2004, mom and daughter started the recycling company, which they called eWaste Services.
"There was such a huge demand," O'Donnell said. "I figured we could do this."
In true Silicon Valley style, they started the company in their garage. Evelyn ran the business and Briana ran the errands.
"Briana is great with people and isn't afraid to walk into a business and hand out fliers and talk about our services," O'Donnell said. "She does pick-ups, helps in the warehouse - whatever I need."
As word spread about the company's services - no pick-up is too small - the business took off. They rented a warehouse across town, added four employees and attracted corporate clients like Jenny Craig and Abbott Labs. Revenues have grown into the low six-figures, but O'Donnell is still plowing them back into the company.
O'Donnell has traveled all over the country picking up surplus TVs, refrigerators, microwave ovens, even furniture - and has found new lives for computers, laboratory tables and sectional sofas. She's as much a matchmaker as a recycler.
Briana, who's 27, lives on her own and takes community college classes when not working for her mom.
Focus on helping
Not every parent can start a business just to give a disabled child a job. But O'Donnell figured that since she could, she would.
"I wanted her to have the opportunity to have a career," she said. "To learn how to deal with customers and develop social skills. I could guide her. I could help her."
Besides, Briana isn't the only one benefiting from GreenMouse. A lot of that recycled junk has found its way to schools, children's programs and other non-profits.
O'Donnell recently changed her company's name to GreenMouse, which doesn't sound quite as nerdy as eWaste Services.
"I'm not really saving the planet," she said modestly. "But there are so many opportunities created by e-waste. Old refrigerators, computer equipment, it all can be turned into money. I want to be able to funnel that money back into the community."
At age 57, O'Donnell is up at 5 a.m., and at her desk in her home office late into the evening. Her phone rings constantly. I asked her when she plans to retire for good.
"Actually, I still think of myself as being retired," she said. "Because what I'm doing doesn't seem like work."