Business / Environment / Retail / Startups

Nic Esposito is launching a platform to bring retail into the circular economy

The longtime civic leader has spent much of his career working in litter and waste management for Philly gov. Here's why he's starting Circa Tech.

Too much stuff. (Photo by Pexels user Andrea Piacquadio via a Creative Commons license; image has been cropped)

Put yourself in the shoes of a parent whose kids are constantly receiving gifts for holidays and their birthdays. Before you know it, your basement and garage are filled with stuff no one even uses. Nic Esposito knows this scenario all too well with his own family.

After spending a chunk of his career working in city government on initiatives that reduced waste and increased sustainability, then for an AI-informed company that created a litter index to tackle waste issues, this Fishtown-based entrepreneur is ready to launch his own sustainable company: Circa Tech.

“Circa [Tech] is kind of the culmination of all of that experience of working around tech startups, doing govtech, working in a circular economy, having this stark realization of what we’re doing in this world when it comes to waste,” Esposito said, “but then also realizing the ways that we can reduce it while making people’s lives even better. That all came together to form Circa.”

The circular economy model aims to reduce waste through systems that emphasize reusing products. This system makes products out of both raw and reclaimed materials, and those products are meant to remain in circulation by consumers for as long as possible. When they do reach the end of their lives, consumers again reclaim and recycle the materials.

Nic Esposito. (Courtesy photo)

In this industry, there are downstream solutions such as recycling and composting. Esposito was interested in upstream solutions that focus on how to stop waste from being created at all. He said retail has a terrible system of waste, and there is plenty of opportunity to apply technology to circular economy tactics.

“Circa is going to create the systems where we can track who has that material, and then when they’re done with it, using nudges and really good customer service, we want that product back, and now we’re going to put it back into circulation,” he said.

Esposito plans to start with one brand and perfect a two-way selling and shipping system before launching multiple brands of products under the Circa Tech umbrella. The first platform will be focused on toys, and he hopes to launch in the first half of 2024.

When the platform launches, it will only be available to people in the Philadelphia region. Esposito is currently looking for warehouse space to store its products.

The founder said Circa Tech felt like the right next move because he’s worked in the circular economy world for so long, thinks the companies in that industry are doing great work, and wants to contribute. He’s been thinking about starting a company like this for years — previous ventures include The Head & The Hand publishing house and bookstore in East Kensington — but now finally felt like the right time. He officially started working on Circa Tech at the end of 2022.

Retail sectors Circa Tech hopes to address. (Courtesy image)

Esposito is currently working with Fishtown-based digital product agency O3 World to build Circa Tech’s platform. One aspect he knows he wants to include is a digital inventory so people can see what they already own from a Circa brand and make decisions about what they want to get rid of or buy.

He doesn’t want the platform to be subscription based, or lease products, like other circular economy-based companies. Instead, he wants it to be flexible for customers and convenient to give back products when they’re done. He also plans for the company to give customers incentives to take care of the products and actually return them such as discounts.

“I think the impact can really be, one, is creating another really good, Philly-homegrown company that’s a strong company that can create jobs and make a very, very positive financial and economic impact in the city of Philadelphia,” he said. “And then, two, giving people hope that things can change and that there are better solutions out there for how we buy things for our homes, for our kids, for our families.”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: O3 World

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