For Christmas during his junior year of high school, Austin White-Pentony asked his parents for a filing cabinet to keep his tax records straight.
The University of Minnesota freshman now owns and operates Get Smarter Solutions, which buys used and broken electronics, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, then sells them on eBay.
White-Pentony started the business out of his bedroom and has since made more than enough money to cover his tuition. This spring, he’s teaming up with another former dorm-room entrepreneur to create a new business.
White-Pentony met with the co-owners of Gophermods, an electronics repair shop, Saturday to discuss the venture, he said. The business, opening next month, will connect the companies and focus on buying used electronics. Get Smarter Solutions will focus on selling them and Gophermods will focus on repairs, White-Pentony said.
“We want to capture the lifetime value of the customer from the moment they buy their phone, to the moment they break it and the moment they sell later on,” White-Pentony said.
The relationship between the two businesses began in September when White-Pentony came to the University and reached out to Gophermods co-owner Casey Profita, Profita’s business partner Eric Allred said.
Both businesses are currently housed in the Horton Building in Como.
Gophermods, which started in Pioneer Hall five years ago, is opening another location in Cottage Grove and two additional locations by the end of the year, Allred said.
White-Pentony created his business, formerly known as Mad Town Phone Sales, from his home in Madison, Wis., when he was a junior in high school.
The name changed when White-Pentony moved into Sanford Hall last fall.
White-Pentony said Get Smarter Solutions made more than $350,000 in sales last year, which allowed him to pay for college.
“The fact that he can still keep his head on straight and not just blow through the money and become irresponsible is amazing,” said his father, Allan White.
White-Pentony has also used some of his money to pay for trips abroad. His love of travel has brought him to Peru, Panama and Sweden.
White-Pentony started out selling things from around the house, including his siblings’ old electronics, White said.
In the beginning, he repaired the devices he sold using tutorials he found on YouTube.
White-Pentony’s parents aren’t involved with the business and were surprised when they found out how much money he was making, White said.
“There were months where he was out-earning my wife and I combined,” said White, who is a real estate broker.
While running the business out of his home, White-Pentony ordered pallets of cardboard boxes and industrial rolls of bubble wrap.
“Between Federal Express, UPS, the United States Postal Service — they’ve probably made several hundred visits to our house each,” White said.
Discovering a new type of packaging always gets White-Pentony excited, said McKinley Kant, White-Pentony’s best friend.
“I call him the cardboard box aficionado,” he said. This nickname is White-Pentony’s Twitter bio.
White-Pentony and Kant became friends in high school. Kant, a political science freshman at George Washington University, said he talks to White-Pentony almost every day.
As a high school senior, White-Pentony was the 2012 Wisconsin Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. White-Pentony was chosen for the award from 13 finalists in the state between the ages of 8 and 18.
By graduation, everyone in school knew about White-Pentony’s business, Kant said.
He’s a very humble guy, said Joe Maurer, White-Pentony’s former business teacher at Verona Area High School.
“He knows he doesn’t have all the answers, and he’s very open to learning from other people,” Maurer said.
While most students use their classroom learning to help them with assignments, Austin White-Pentony uses his Carlson School of Management courses to help him with his business.
“I learn the material in class and put it to work in my business,” White-Pentony said.
Last year, White-Pentony said he purchased more than 1,000 devices. He hopes to sell that many each month, but said he’s limited by operating the business by himself.
He said he wants to hire one or two interns this summer to help market Get Smarter Solutions.
“He’s doing exactly what he wants to be doing,” Kant said. “He’ll be an entrepreneur his entire life.”