By Alyssa Schoeneman
Entrepreneurs discover sources of opportunity through a variety of ways – for some it’s through research, for others, it’s through modification of an original idea, and for some lucky ones, they identify a business opportunity in the least unexpected moments: serendipitously.
Arpan Shah’s aha moment for a business idea came while interning at Baxter Healthcare two summers ago.
“I saw a lot of printing waste going on, and I thought, ‘You know, there has to be some way to help reduce this,’” Shah said.
From the unwanted advertisements and sidebars that appear when you print a web document, to the out of margin graphs that appear on the second page of a printed Excel document, Shah wanted to create a plug-in that would eliminate the excess printing that occurs every day in offices, at schools, and at homes.
When Shah returned to school in the fall following, he entered his business idea in the Cozad New Venture Competition – an annual competition hosted by the Technology Entrepreneur Center and the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership to encourage students to create sustainable businesses in the Champaign-Urbana area.
“PrintEco helps consumers and companies reduce their carbon footprint and save money on printing costs,” said Shah about the company idea that he submitted.
Despite not winning, Shah formed a team of computer science major students, including Tom Patterson – one of the partners today, to start developing the plug-in.
Shah, however, knew having coding experts was not enough. He needed someone with the right business connections to bring in investors and customers, and he knew just the right person to ask: Purvik Bhesania, whom he had met in the dorms during freshman year. For the two close friends, the idea of starting a business had always been in the back of their minds – and PrintEco was their answer.
“I’ve been working in the sales industry for a while, since I was 16,” Bhesania said. “Just through making friends and random people at the U of I, I’ve been able to make connections at the top.”
Right off the bat, Bhesania put his expertise to use – bringing in RR Donnelley, a Fortune 500 company as an investor.
“We’re working with them to make an enterprise ready, so like a solution they can actually deploy across all their computers,” Shah said.
For a large company like RR Donnelley, implementing such a plug-in could reduce costs by six figures.
“Studies have shown that 17% of all enterprise printing is wasteful,” Shah said. “On average big companies spend $500 per employee every year on printing costs.”
Crunching numbers together, 17% equates to $90 of wasted printing costs for every employee per year.
“RR Donnelley has 10,000 employees, which saves close to $900,000 per year,” Shah said. “The figures are similar in educational institutions.”
The team of three said while they are still testing whether their plug-in will match the 17% statistic, even a savings of 10% in printing will reduce the spending costs for companies and potential customers by a large margin.
For the founders and the three interns working for PrintEco, the biggest hurdle has been developing the various plug-ins needed for different Internet browsers and Microsoft Office applications.
“Green Print and Fine Print (PrintEco’s competitors) don’t target specific applications like us,” Shah said. “They are trying to do across all applications with one solution, and ours is different solutions.
By customizing the plug-in accordingly each type of user’s needs, such as Firefox over Internet Explorer or Microsoft Word over Excel, Shah said PrintEco will hopefully gain competitive advantage over its competitors.
With PrintEco still in its developmental stage, Shah said the goal is to finish all the developments by the summer and start pilot-testing immediately after.
Currently, a handful of small businesses, from Illinois Launch’s graduate Illinois Green Business Association to an eco-business in Hawaii, as well as campus units Technology Entrepreneur Center, Office of Sustainability and EnterpriseWorks are utilizing the plug-in.
Once the pilot-testing is complete, the team hopes to target a variety of businesses as potential customers, including small to large companies, as well as the education market (including expanding across the campus units). The ultimate goal, according to the trio, is to make the plug-in available for individual users.
With all three staff members graduating this summer, they plan to make PrintEco a full time work position.
“We want to become the next thing out of U o f I that was big,” said Bhesania with a smile.