Columbus Women in Business: Tonia Irion, Co-Founder & President at e-Cycle
Born and raised in a family of entrepreneurs, Tonia Irion pursued what came naturally: turning her ideas into action and co-founding an earth-friendly business from the ground up. Her grandparents, father, and brother were all entrepreneurs.
“I grew up learning about and understanding small businesses,” Tonia said.
About 12 years ago, Tonia and her husband Chris co-founded e-Cycle. e-Cycle pays other companies to donate electronic devices they want to safely recycle, giving them even more of an incentive to recycle their devices; the company’s three main focuses are asset recovery, environmental protection, and data security.
She was awarded Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, the same year e-Cycle earned the Waste & Recycling News Rosie Award for innovations in the recycling, waste, and sustainability industry.
How she got here
Tonia moved to Florida to be with her husband during graduate school and worked at Hewlett-Packard where she first experienced corporate life and the many differences between small businesses and corporations.
“Working in corporate environments has balanced me as an individual and a leader, but I always knew I would eventually start and manage my own company,” Tonia said.
Knowing that she no longer wanted to travel for work with her first child on the way, Tonia built her first startup, Ideas and Action, a full-scale incentive planning company, where she worked for 5-6 years before founding e-Cycle. According to Tonia, Chris started e-Cycle, and she joined him shortly after.
After growing up in Dublin, Tonia and Chris opened the first e-Cycle office there. e-Cycle outgrew its small office suite and moved to another office space in Hilliard. Eventually Tonia and Chris moved to New Albany and brought the company with them.
“We loved the community and wanted to build roots for our family and company,” Tonia said. “New Albany is a wonderful place both personally and professionally. The community development folks, the chamber, and the city really try to help build collaboration and success in every way they can.”
They realized that collecting devices in mass would help the company grow quicker, leading it to become a primarily B2B company. Its most collected electronic device is cell phones. The e-Cycle team is made up of about 75 employees who are passionate about technology and the company’s culture and philanthropies.
Tonia is inspired by the e-Cycle team, including her co-worker and employee, Jen Myers, Chief Operations Officer at e-Cycle. “She has an amazing ability to connect with people and to lead people,” Tonia said.
e-Cycle’s first client was the American Cancer Society who collected cell phones at its Relay for Life events across the country. In total e-Cycle collected 30,000 phones in 3 months.
For National Diabetes Awareness Month last November, e-Cycle donated a matched percentage of all client device donations during that month and donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund (JDRF). A Board member of JDRF, Tonia became involved with the organization when her daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 10.
“It was a way to surround myself with a support system of other folks, a way to raise money for a cause I deeply care about, and a way to support advocacy and research to find a cure.”
Both Tonia and Chris support several philanthropies, and they have made philanthropic endeavors part of their personal and professional core values. The e-Cycle Foundation was created to formalize donations and to benefit clients who decide to donate through the Foundation.
The e-Cycle Foundation has also donated digital tablets, which have been recycled then wiped and restored with learning programs in house, to children nation-wide via Autism Speaks.
Her advice to others
Tonia defines success as more of a continuous journey than a destination. “It’s important to define who you are and what your strengths, weaknesses, and core values are and then put those into action, whether it’s for a business you work for or a business you’re starting.”
“Are you willing to stay up until 3 a.m.? Are you willing to eat Spaghettios for the next year?”
While seeking a work/life balance, Tonia realized it isn’t about balance—it’s about making time for what’s important.
“There is no balance,” Tonia said. “It is all in where you plan to focus your time, and you need to include time for your core values and passions. Pick 3-5 things to focus your time on and if you’re willing to let some other things not be perfect, you will be content.”
She also believes in efficient goal setting and that life is easier when you break it down into micro goals as opposed to conquering one daunting task. In sharing her advice with students, Tonia emphasizes that students should explore multiple facets of their degrees through their internships and be open to different possibilities for their future careers.
“Imperfect progress is still progress.”
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