By Candice D. McLeod
Each week leading up to the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open Innovation (SBIO) finals on June 5th, where the runner-up will be decided via live online public vote, we will feature two articles on an SBIO semi-finalists. Meet SBIO Public Vote Semi-finalist winner, PrintEco.PrintEco is an example of innovation being born out of frustration. While an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, CEO and Founder, Arpan Shah wanted to save paper, but with the least amount of time and effort. He was frustrated at how much paper was being wasted in his school’s computer labs, but like most of his peers, was too time-strapped on his way to class to reformat his documents. After discovering that almost one in five pages were discarded, Shah entered a business competition at the University of Illinois to formulate a solution. Shah was able to refine his ideas into PrintEco, a plug-in for commonly-used applications and browsers, such as Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. With an easy one-click process, PrintEco software automatically optimizes the content of your documents to fit on a smaller number of pages. This reduces unnecessary printed content, such as unwanted photos and advertisements, but more importantly, reduces associated printing costs, such as paper and ink. Unfortunately, designing a simple solution to save paper is more difficult that it seems. Shah then added co-founder and computer science major, Tom Patterson to address the design and technical hurdles. However, their biggest challenge was the commercialization of the product, and most importantly, convincing investors to part with their money to get PrintEco off the ground. Almost three years later, PrintEco has definitely progressed. Shah and Patterson moved their team to Chicago after graduating, while adding staff and acquiring key partnerships, including investors and universities, along the way. While the market for print optimization is still nascent, PrintEco has about four competitors, including GreenPrint, and Adobe’s Lean Print. However, the PrintEco team maintains that their competitive advantage is the product’s user-friendly interface, one-click process, and the analytics feature, which allows consumers to measure their savings in pages, dollars, trees, and pounds of carbon dioxide. They pride themselves on the minimized time and steps that are required to use their product, making it as easy as possible for the consumer to save paper. They plan to generate revenue through their subscription model – on a per-user, per-year basis - as well as small ads placed throughout the free version. PrintEco is very particular about their advertisers, and aim to focus on companies where sustainability is a core tenet. They have already signed on two companies that match their criteria. So what’s next for PrintEco? “We have a huge mission,” says Shah. “We are hoping to save 1 billion pages by 2020, and to reach at least 100,000 users within the next couple of years.” The team hopes that pitching at SBIO 2013 will help the company realize these goals. They entered the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open because they see the SB community as the perfect opportunity to showcase their innovative way of saving paper – and a few dollars. The free version of PrintEco is available for download on its website, as well as its two subscription models that target small businesses and the enterprise market. Visit PrintEco to learn how to save paper and check out their demo video on Vimeo. Candice D. McLeod is the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open Co-Coordinator. She received a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies, concentrating in Energy Management & Policy, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. Connect with her on Twitter @candicedmcleod.