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Santa Maria Sun / Biz Spotlight

The following article was posted on February 12th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 49

Spotlight on: All Star iTech

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

Revenue from gaming and computer repairs enables All Star iTech on South Broadway to give students computer time free of charge on any of the 45 custom-built machines in the building.

Owner Jack Hira said the business acts like a nonprofit, but doesn’t have to drum up grants or donations because the revenue All Star takes in gives it enough money to sustain itself.


STUDY SESH:
Edgar Ramirez said he’s taking online classes before he graduates high school. Ramirez doesn’t have a computer at home, and said he probably wouldn’t be able to complete the classes if he couldn’t use an All Star iTech computer for free.
PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

Giving to people less fortunate than his family and himself is how Hira wanted to spend his retirement, but he wasn’t interested in constantly looking for a revenue source.

As far as figuring out what he wanted to give, he thought about what made his family successful. Access to education and technology were what he felt helped his children achieve, so that became the gift he wanted to give back.

“Every item that’s manufactured today has a chip in it or a sensor, and [kids] have to know how to use it,” Hira said. “If we can help a half a dozen kids, we would feel very fortunate.”

Although he’s lived and sold real estate in Santa Barbara for 40 years, he believes Santa Maria is a community with a greater need because of demographics and general income level. He said that 30 to 40 percent of Hispanic families don’t have computers at home.

“There are more kids in this community without a computer,” Hira said. “Without learning about computers and technology, those kids are going to have challenges in the future.”

In November, when the opportunity came up to buy out Good Game—which had already established a gaming-customer base in a central location—he jumped at the opportunity. All Star iTech continued gaming as a successful way to bring in customers, but also to get the word out about free computer use for schoolwork and the computer and mobile device repairs his employees can do.

Hira wants to help not only by giving students somewhere to do homework, but also by collecting donated computers, refurbishing and repairing them, and giving them to families in need.

Giving back to the community through technology and education while sustaining a strong revenue stream is a business model that for Hira is inspired from three different sources: Muhammad Yunus, Salman Khan, and Blake Mycoskie. Each created a model of giving as part of their business foundations.

Yunus is a 2006 Nobel Prize winner who founded Grameen Bank in 1976. The bank finances small loans to the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh—people who wouldn’t normally have access to financing—without asking for collateral. Yunus’ purpose was to create a for-profit business, which helps a social cause at the same time.

“Run it for profit to pay for the business,” Hira said. “Any extra profits, you can give it away to the cause.”

Hira’s cause is a safe space where students can build their computer skills and further their education. He said he took inspiration from Khan, whose mission is to make education free and accessible to everyone. The Khan Academy is a nonprofit with more than 3,500 free YouTube videos on subjects like math and science.

It’s something All Star iTech IT Manager Chris Ausan said helped him get through college. Ausan directs students who are having trouble with their homework to find a Khan Academy video for help.

“Especially if they’re doing their math homework,” Ausan said.

Free math homework help aside, Hira still needs to fund the operation. For that, he looked to Mycoskie, who started TOMS shoes. With every pair of shoes sold, TOMS donates a pair to someone in need. For Hira, that’s a good example of a successful for-profit business used for something socially beneficial.

All Star iTech gives away one hour of computer use for free with every hour of gaming played. Students can use the computers for free when they need to complete schoolwork or take online classes.

For everyone else, the cost is $3 for one hour, $5 for two hours, or $12 for five hours. They also have weekend and member rates. Visit allstaritech.com to learn more. The space is at 1777 S. Broadway, open Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Biz Spotlight was written by Staff Writer Camillia Lanham. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, e-mail, or mail.