Eastlake graduate brings computers to El Salvador
November 25, 2009
By Christopher Huber
When Brian Belcher left Eastlake High School in 2005 for Santa Clara College, he knew he wanted to make money. He set out to major in business and finance and planned to start a life for himself in the safety and security of a high-paying job in the United States.
That was his goal, then.
But during his time at Santa Clara, his whole approach to climbing the corporate ladder and making a lot of money changed, he said.
As a finance and economics student, Belcher took advantage of business immersion trips to Mexico and El Salvador, as well as studies in Spain.
“I was provided these opportunities to really be globally minded,” Belcher said.
Through those experiences, he realized the amount of good he could do with his skills in the developing world, he said. He even turned down job offers from Wells Fargo and Deloitte.
He asked himself, ‘who needs it most?’
That’s why upon graduating college last June, Belcher, 22, headed back to Central America to help impoverished families make a living and get connected to the world through micro-credit and computer distribution programs. He calls the company Computodos.
“At 22, I have a pretty strong background in business,” Belcher said.
After meting many families in rural villages in El Salvador and Guatemala, he noticed a great lack of communication with the outside world, thus stifling business opportunities locally.
“There’s not really an industry down here,” Belcher said from his office in San Salvador, El Salvador. “Central America … they need some help right now. I found it to be a pretty good time to do something like this.”
To attain the goal of equipping low-income families with high-quality, inexpensive computers, Belcher teamed up with 2008 Santa Clara graduate Sam Baker, as well as San Salvador-based electronics distributor DPG and Seattle-based computer re-furbisher Interconnections in early fall.
“What’s cool about what they’re doing is they’re doing it at a social enterprise model. It’s not free, but they make it available at low cost,” said Charles Brennick, founder and director of Interconnections, Computodos’s primary supplier. “It’s a way to get computers to people in these different sectors of society through this sort of social enterprise model.”
Just two months into the endeavor, Belcher said he and Baker are essentially volunteers, working to create a network of distributors and suppliers to fill the huge demand.
They make just enough money from selling refurbished computers for $150 each to pay rent and bills in San Salvador. He plans to approach Dell and Hewlett-Packard to form partnerships as Computodos grows, he said.
“All this is kind of coming together.” Belcher said. “Two months in business and we’re breaking out the cigars.”
Belcher and Baker sold their first 100 computers in one week in mid-November and already have orders for 100 more, he said.
“Those guys have done a lot,” Brennick said. “I think they’ll make it happen.”
Richard Belcher, Brian’s father and an English teacher at Eastlake, said the family supports the pair working abroad. They miss Brian a lot, but once they saw his passion for using his skills to improve lives in developing countries, they knew it was what he should be doing for now, he said.
“We said to him his plans were very honorable, but ‘couldn’t you do that in the United States?’” Richard Belcher said. After all, San Salvador is a dangerous city, riddled with gangs and crime. “He has this calling. It’s very sincere.”
Brian Belcher said he sticks with the no-plan plan when it comes to returning to the States. His goal for Computodos is to create jobs for San Salvador residents and he will come home when the time is right.
“We want to be able to open up and deal with our own re-furbishing center,” he said.
And when the time comes to get a job and set up a life here in America, Richard Belcher thinks his son will be ready.
“Someday there’s going to be a corporation that looks at my son and says, ‘he gets it,’” Richard Belcher said. “He’s experiencing what it’s all about out there, outside the borders of this country.”
Visit Brian Belcher’s blog at http://thesocialcapitalista.blogspot.com.
Reporter Christopher Huber can be reached at 392-6434, ext. 242, or email@example.com.