In 2008 Andrew DePaula returned to his hotel room after the Consumer Electronics Show, dismayed to learn that after hours of searching for cheap USB technology, there was a price floor that wouldn’t budge. As he fiddled with his badge he noticed a lump in the paper — and inspiration struck.
Five years later, DePaula is the CEO of Spokane-based intelliPaper, the leading manufacturer of “intelligent paper” — paper goods embedded with USB and wireless capabilities. The idea came to DePaula when he realized his paper name badge had RFID technology implanted in it.
“People are touchy-feely,” DePaula said. “We like things we can hold and manipulate and handle — and yet the online world has added so much to society. This shouldn’t be two different worlds. Our USB paper is just the first step in bridging those two worlds together.”
IntelliPaper’s USB drives, designed to be an inexpensive tool for marketing and sharing data, are just the first step. DePaula’s team also recently launched SwivelCard, its first broadly-targeted consumer product. SwivelCard is a business card with an embedded USB drive. It allows consumers to add photos, point to web pages, and track the card’s use. Users can also update the info on the card remotely, even after it’s been given away. IntelliPaper is only accepting large custom orders of SwivelCards right now, but next week they’re launching a Kickstarter to raise enough money to make the product widely marketable.
“USB is only the beginning,” DePaula said. “We see a big, broad future in disposable paper goods that are smart and interact and bridge the gap that traditionally exists between the digital space and the tangible physical space.”
We caught up with DePaula to learn more about the company for this installment of Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We make paper USB drives. We patented the process of embedding a microchip between layers of paper and then printing metallic ink on as contact strips. Plugs right into a normal USB drive, but can be printed on anything.”
Inspiration hit us when: “Honestly, we are geeks. We dream about creating and inventing and making. Inspiration hit us when we were playing with legos. I’m an engineer. I like doing things for fun like rebuilding a VW Rabbit so it runs on vegetable oil (it’s supposed to smell like French fries) and building a solar and wind-powered repeater. This repeater has powered all the Wi-Fi Internet access for my home and office, six miles apart, for the past three years.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Some investment capital, some loan ($750,000 this year). We’re trying to grow organically and keep control of the company to keep it personal, even though we want it to grow big.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We care about what we are doing. We feel we have been gifted with an incredible technology that could be used for much good in the world and intend to see that brought to fruition.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Persevering through whatever we’ve been dealt. Having a clear vision and sticking to it.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Not submitting our company to GeekWire six years ago.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Jobs. Personal care in what we do is key.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “Y2K comes. What? Already happened. Hooray! We survived!”
Rivals should fear us because: “We just created SwivelCard, the world’s ‘smartest’ business card. It is a trackable paper USB business card that can be updated even after giving it out to someone. We plan to launch a Kickstarter next week for this exciting project.”
We are truly unique because: “We are not just a big corporation that only cares about the bottom line. We care about our employees, our reputation, and the impact we have on others.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “I think the biggest obstacle was just finding a way to create the technology at the right price point and we’ve truly innovated there with a lot of our IP and trade knowledge. This is totally new technology. There’s nothing else out there like it.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “If you believe in your idea, keep persevering.”