Printing on the go

You can spend a year working on a product only to discover that there’s competition out there and that they’re way ahead of you.

Gilad Schnurmacherand and Tuvia Elbaum (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gilad Schnurmacherand and Tuvia Elbaum
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Projections that we’ll be living in a world without printed matter are premature, claims Tuvia Elbaum, cofounder with Matan Caspi of the ZutA Pocket Printer.
“You still need to print out a page, whether it’s a contract, a term sheet, or even just a form you need to fill out.
When you fly, you still have to print out your e-ticket,” he says.
One year ago, Elbaum and Caspi were pursuing their studies in business administration at the Jerusalem College of Technology when they applied to the JCT entrepreneurship program.
Acceptance to the program meant that they would receive some capital, guidance from professors at the college, use of the college’s labs and other facilities to help build their projects.
Elbaum and Caspi had a number of ideas, but the one that most captured their imagination was a portable printer.
“I work on the go all the time,” Elbaum says. “I sit in coffeehouses with my tablet, phone or laptop, and I have to wait until I get to the office or go home to print my document. Everyone says we’re moving towards a paperless world – but we’re not. There are always these small things you need to print.”
Some research into the printing industry indicated that there had been little innovation in printer technology over the past 20 years. The sole exception, according to Elbaum, was a small printer that purported to be portable. Although smaller than a standard printer, its width was that of an A4 page and it could be operated just by connecting it to an electrical socket.
“I wondered how I could make it smaller,” Elbaum says. “Basically, I saw it moved from left to right so I thought, why not give it a set of wheels and let it move over a piece of paper.”
Elbaum and Caspi presented their business plan to the JCT entrepreneurship acceptance committee. They received some initial funding, which allowed them to hire an electrical engineer, Gilad Schnurmacher, to begin work on the prototype.
Elbaum demonstrated how the prototype, a rather cumbersome version of what the final product will look like, moved across an A4 page, printing the text Schnurmacher typed into his mobile phone. Connected to the phone through Bluetooth wireless technology, the printer printed out the words “Hello world.”
The final version of the pocket printer will be smaller, print faster and have the shape of a teardrop on wheels, with the ink cartridge slightly protruding. It is designed to enable the user to place the printer precisely on the page by aligning the point of the printer with the corner of the page; this ensures that the printing is straight. It can be used with any device, such as a smartphone (iOS or Android), tablet or laptop, over Bluetooth.
The printer’s power derives from a standard battery, similar to that used in a smartphone, which can operate for an hour after a two-hour recharge. The Pocket Printer can be used on any size paper and prints a full A4 page in 45 seconds.
Users can download an app to their device that will allow them to check the printer’s battery status and the amount of ink left in the cartridge, set printer options and send a file to print in the usual way. When the printing job is completed, the printer can be switched off to conserve power.
The Pocket Printer can print any type of file, including graphic files.
At this stage, until an enterprising company designs minuscule color cartridges, images are printed in grayscale only.
Elbaum is not new to the world of entrepreneurship, having launched his first start-up together with a friend in 2006.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” he says, “and although it failed, we continued to work on other projects.
It’s cool when you can build your own ideas. But it takes a lot of effort and it can be hard, both emotionally and financially.”
He likens the life of an entrepreneur to that of an artist who, presenting his creation to the world, exposes himself to criticism.
“But building a start-up is more than that,” he says. “You can spend a year working on a product only to discover that there’s competition out there and that they’re way ahead of you.
You’re on a constant emotional roller- coaster. There are good days that are so busy, and everybody is calling you – and then there are days where nothing works and there’s no solution to the bug you’ve been working on for the last month.”
Raising enough money to develop an idea into a product requires the as piring entrepreneur to prepare himself for rejection.
“The fact is that to raise money from one or two venture capitalists, you have to meet with at least 60 of them,” he explains.
“And you have to be ready to get out there and pitch your ideas with the same enthusiasm, smile and passion, day in and day out.”
Elbaum and Caspi turned to the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter to finance development of the Pocket Printer, and were amazed when they achieved their goal within a week. At the time of writing, they had exceeded their stated target by almost $70,000, with some 10 days still to go to the funding campaign deadline.
“We aimed for $400,000, even though we didn’t yet have the final product,” Elbaum says. “Typically, when companies turn to Kickstarter, they already have the final version of their product and they ask for around $50,000 to start production.
In our case, we went for a high target to make sure we wouldn’t get stuck in the middle of development, and to be ready to ship the printer to our backers by the beginning of 2015.”
The Pocket Printer campaign generated a response from all over the world. Major technology companies have already approached the company for partnership deals, and the partners have received requests from US companies to include the Pocket Printer in their Christmas catalogs.
“It’s clearly a product that people have been waiting for,” Elbaum says.
The Pocket Printer is the first product to be developed by ZutA Labs. The name ZutA, which means “small things” in Hebrew, was chosen deliberately, Elbaum explains. “Devices and hardware are becoming smaller and more portable all the time. As our slogan says: It’s the little things that matter.”
Visit and view a video demonstrating the Pocket Printer.
The writer has worked for over 20 years in hi-tech. If you have a question about any of the products featured in this column or have developed a product you’d like to share, contact: