Ink raises $7M to make printing on college campuses less painful

Ink, a Nebraska-based startup focused on revamping on-campus printing, has raised $7 million from VTF Capital, SQN Venture Partners, Invest Nebraska and NE Angeles. This brings total funding to $15 million, with previous participation from advisors Tony Hsieh of Zappos and Greg Silverman of Warner Brothers.

If you’re a college student or recent graduate, you already understand exactly how frustrating it is to print on campus. But for everyone else, here’s a quick explainer:

Most colleges allow students to print by deploying giant enterprise-scale printers (like you’d find in a law office), and connecting them to some adjacent terminal or computer lab where a student logs in, pays and selects their print job. But it’s often very difficult to get a document from laptop to this terminal. Students usually end up having to email the document to themselves, use a flash drive or even upload it to the printer’s website. If a school is “high-tech” then maybe there will be some wireless solution that involves downloading a half-baked printer driver that works about 50 percent of the time.

Why does the process suck so much? First, the campus usually uses software that is supposed to work with thousands of different types of printers — and this quest for compatibility usually results in very high error percentages. Another reason — the UI is almost always awful, since the print management software was probably built a decade ago for a law firm or office setting, and was haphazardly retooled for a campus environment.

This is where Ink’s two products comes in. The first one, SmartStation, is a giant touch screen that only connects to HP printers (the startup has a partnership with them), meaning software error rates and paper jam rates are much lower. There’s also a product called inkTouch that works with existing printers, but still provides the cloud-based services available on the SmartStation.

To print, students tap or swipe their campus ID card to authenticate themselves, then can access their Dropbox or Google Drive or a bunch of other cloud services to select a document to print. And they only have to log into these services once, as Ink will create a keychain that lives on the student’s campus ID card to automatically log them into these cloud services the next time they want to print.

There are a few other cool features — you can scan a document and have it appear on the giant touch screen where you can sign it with your finger and email it directly to a recipient, or do things like edit and print photos. And students also can wirelessly use AirPrint if they’re running a new version of iOS or MacOS, which is a convenience unheard of in enterprise-scale printing.

Essentially the startup is trying to take the ~10-minute process of printing on campus (if you’ve tried it recently you know this isn’t an exaggeration) and make it happen in less than a minute.

Ink has two pricing models — they’ll deploy machines for free and charge the students $.09 cents per page, or lease the machines to the school and let them handle student payment options. They’ll be live in about 30 schools by the end of the year, including Stanford, UCLA, SUNY and more.