Jacob Owens - DBT
WILMINGTON – For Markevis Gideon, the energetic young entrepreneur who has grown his computer and electronics repair and recycling business NERDiT NOW on the back of a memorable “Shark Tank” appearance, the company’s latest move was not one he anticipated.
While occupying about 5,000 square feet of retail storefront in Stanton, he now had the opportunity to take over 10 times as much space for his 7-year-old company – but to do so meant going home.
For Gideon, who has been open about his difficult childhood in Wilmington’s eastern Riverside community, the thought of potentially moving his life back there was a bit daunting. But other local leaders like the WRK Group’s Logan Herring and Eastside Charter’s Aaron Bass helped convince him that now was the right time.
“It was Logan who came to me and said, ‘Markevis, you don’t want to come here because of trauma, right? But you made it past the trauma. You worked with the trauma and you became a better person. Let’s teach other people to do the same thing,’” Gideon told Delaware Business Times. “He was right. I needed to come back home and show that you could be from this neighborhood and still make a positive impact.”
On Thursday afternoon, surrounded by Gov. John Carney and those local leaders and friends, Gideon cut the ribbon on NERDiT NOW’s new headquarters at 3030 Bowers St.
While the building continues to be owned by Opportunity Center Inc., a subsidiary of the prior nonprofit tenant ServiceSource, NERDiT NOW was able to negotiate a new lease with the help of the city’s Office of Economic Development and Neighborgood Partners, formerly known as NCALL.
It represents a new chapter for 3030 Bowers St., which was most recently home to Second Chances Farm, a hydroponic farm that hired almost exclusively those previously incarcerated. The farm was lauded with awardsand even visits by Trump administration Cabinet members but collapsed under a torrent of lawsuits regarding contract disputes and unpaid invoices as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We kept the Opportunity Center name on the building and some people have asked me why. It’s because we’re still aligned with that mission. We’re going to create opportunities for individuals,” Gideon said.
The move to Riverside will also come with an evolution of the company, with the traditional retail repair business for cracked cell phone screens, computer virus cures and more being moved off to its nonprofit arm, NERDiT CARES.
That operation, which trains individuals and donates thousands of refurbished computers annually, is planning on opening a new location at 212 W. 9th St. in the city early next year, and NERDiT CARES board chair Sarah Fulton announced Thursday that it has received its first grant from the Longwood Foundation and capital funding from the Welfare Foundation to support that growth. To date, NERDiT CARES has trained several dozen IT workers, who will soon take over the retail operation, and donated more than 10,000 computers.
Meanwhile, the for-profit company NERDiT NOW is transitioning to fully focus on bulk orders and electronic recycling – the public can drop off unwanted electronics there for free.
“I looked at the building and thought, ‘Yeah, this is a perfect space.’ And it’s ironic that several years ago, if you look at the Google Maps image, the side of the building said ISO 9001, which means they dealt with the recycling space too. So, we’re bringing it back home,” Gideon said.
While the company has packed about half of the 35,000 square feet of storage area with electronics and assorted computer parts, Gideon plans to slowly expand its operations to cover the entire building footprint. A small setup allows his team to repair and reformat about 50 computers simultaneously, but he aims to complete batches of 200 at a time with the additional space.
It receives one or two 53-foot tractor-trailers a month loaded with electronics that are either repurposed or recycled. Many of those computers are sold back to school districts, nonprofits or retailers to try to keep costs lower than purchasing all-new replacements.
“I’ve taken some very old computers and made them work much better than you’ll find in a new Best Buy,” he explained, noting a new motherboard, processor, RAM or operating system can make a big difference on even a dated machine.
With about 12 employees currently, Gideon said he’d like to hire upward of 75 more within the next three years. Those additions will also help NERDiT NOW fully take advantage of its status as Delaware’s only certified recycler of IT equipment, with workers who could strip down unusable electronics for their valuable metals.
“We need just a little bit more financial resources, which is going to help us be able to hire more individuals, and then work on the infrastructure of the building a little bit more,” he said. “Slowly and steadily, we’re making changes. If you came here two weeks ago, it looked completely different. If you come two weeks from now, I promise you it will change again.”
For Renata Kowalczyk, president and CEO of the Wilmington Alliance, a nonprofit that works to advance economic development and social vitality in the city, Gideon’s company was an example of what she wanted involved in its Second Chance Employment Collaborative.
“NERDiT CARES trains people and NERDiT NOW creates second chance employment opportunities, and that is the model we want to replicate with every business in the state of Delaware,” she said.
Like the Opportunity Center’s last tenant, Gideon said that his company is proud of its diversity and impact in the community. He noted that 40% of staff are women, 80% are minorities and 90% are either income-eligible or justice-involved, and that he already has four apprentices from Riverside set to begin soon.
“We are from this neighborhood. This is home. So anything I’m going to do, I’m going to do it intentionally,” he said.