Prynt printer and prints

Prynt’s instant photo-printer cases weigh in at one pound each and measure 5 inches long by 3.3 inches wide by 1.2 inches deep. The device holds 10 sheets of special-order print paper, and also contains a rechargeable battery. (Courtesy Prynt)

Polaroids for the smartphone set, with a video twist

Prynt, a San Francisco-based startup founded by two graduates of a Berkeley Engineering entrepreneurship program, is bringing instant print photography to smartphones. The grads designed a smartphone case equipped with a built-in mini-printer, for printing digital photos on the go.

The founders, Clément Perrot and David Zhang, were schoolmates at École Polytechnique, France’s premier science and engineering university, but it wasn’t until they met again at Berkeley in 2013 that they really got to know each other.

Prynt cofoundersCo-founders David Zhang and Clément Perrot.  (Courtesy Prynt)The two attended Learn2Launch, a program hosted by the Technology Transfer Program of the Institute of Transportation Studies in partnership with the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. As a result of the work they did together in a mobile app course, they decided to become business partners.

“I’ve watched these guys steadily grow their team and their investors,” says Ken Singer, managing director of the Sutardja Center, who taught the class where the pair began their partnership. “They just kept getting advocates, money, prototypes and partners — and they were very thoughtful and deliberate, which is very much the ethos of the program. I feel like we’ve added that to their DNA.”

In Singer’s class, Perrot and Zhang found that their personalities and skills were complementary: Zhang excelled at planning and project management, while Perrot brought in people with needed skills at the right times.

“We knew we would be a good fit as a founding team,” says Perrot. “We just needed to find the right idea.” Their first consideration: it had to be fun. “Something our families could use, that we could use,” says Perrot.

During brainstorming sessions, they recalled the allure that Polaroids had held when they were kids growing up in Parisian suburbs. This inspired them to bring instant print photography to smartphones. They recruited an industrial designer, and soon, with 3-D-printed prototype cases in hand, they found buyers willing to pay around $125 for their device, even though it didn’t yet exist.

Prynt uses an inkless thermal printing system to create instant photo prints. At first, the team envisioned a Bluetooth connection between phone and printer, but soon learned that a hardware connection, though trickier to build, ensured more reliable camera-to-printer communication.

And then there’s the video twist. Every Prynt image does double-duty as the first frame of an automatically recorded six-second video. Print the photo, point your smartphone at the print — say, an image of a friend blowing out birthday candles — and your phone will play a cloud-stored video of the whole scene, from lit candles to smoke and applause.

A 35-day Kickstarter campaign earlier this year raised $1.5 million and another round of financing brought in $2 million, allowing Zhang and Perrot to recruit one team in Paris and another in San Francisco. This fall, they brought both teams together in their new headquarters in San Francisco’s Dogpatch district.

So far, Prynt has applied for two U.S. patents. The first, filed in September 2014, is for the two-part case containing a palm-sized printer into which consumers can plug their smartphone.

More recently, they applied for a patent on the software that after scanning a Prynt-made picture directs users to the image’s associated video clip. Prynt has also filed for worldwide invention protection through the European Patent Cooperation Treaty.

The company plans to deliver the first working Prynt cases, which they will manufacture in Korea, to Kickstarter backers this month. 

Topics: Design, Devices & inventions, Entrepreneurship