What Makes a Good Cool Idea! Award Application

Posted On November 21, 2017 By Proto Labs

The Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award is our manufacturing grant that helps hardware startups accelerate commercialization by reducing the burden of upfront manufacturing expenses. Each year, our panel of judges award up to $250,000 in Proto Labs manufacturing services. In total, the program has aided companies with more than $1 million in manufacturing services. View past recipients here.

Think your product might be a good fit for the Cool Idea! Award? We’re always looking for quality applications and would love to help you get your product to market.

What Makes an Idea Cool?

  • First, and most importantly, you must have more than just a cool idea. We look for entrepreneurs, engineers, makers, and designers that have a demonstrated commitment to making a commercially viable product.
  • Having a thoughtful business plan can help separate you from the pack—a solid understanding of how your product fits in the marketplace will help get you noticed by our judges.
  • Are you embedded within the startup community? Many Cool Idea! Award winners come from startup incubators and accelerators. This shows a dedication to your business and proves that you have the connections to make the next great product.
  • We love companies that run a crowdfunding campaign or plan to in the future. It’s a proven way to generate demand for new product ideas and test the market.
  • If you’re past the prototyping phase and looking to scale to low-volume production, then the Cool Idea! Award is the perfect fit. The manufacturing grant can be used for prototyping but we do tend to favor businesses with a close-to-final design.
Proto Labs Cool Idea Award Logo

What Cool Idea! Judges Look For

If you want more specific insight into what our judges are seek in an applicant, we asked each of them what makes a Cool Idea! Award application stand out to them.

John Vaskis: I am always looking for innovations that have the potential to change lives in a significant way. I gravitate towards products that one will use on a consistent basis. And, the further down the production cycle you are, typically the better.

Chris Boyle: I don’t think I have a rigid criteria for identifying a good applicant. I think first of all, the elevator pitch has to be really good so they get our attention—one or two sentences or a graphic that clearly hooks us into the problem statement as much as the solution.

Andy Macinnis: I look for DFV: desirability, feasibility, and viability. Is it cool, is it really doable, and will it make money.

Taylor Stein: I’m really looking for an innovative idea that changes the norm and solves a real problem. With the lucrative acquisitions of hardware companies such as Nest and Oculus, there seems to be an unnecessary focus on building the next unicorn hardware startup. Whether you’re improving the lives of the elderly, or helping individuals sit with better posture, there’s no shame in a modest, profitable hardware business.

Amanda Williams: I’m in favor of cool ideas that solve real problems—not just “first world problems.” I also like art that makes you rethink familiar things.

The Cool Idea! Award Application Process

The first step in applying for the Cool Idea! Award is to fill out an initial application. This is a quick process that just requires you to answer three simple questions:

  • Do you have a 3D CAD model for the product you are submitting?
  • Give us the elevator pitch of your product
  • What’s your background, does your company belong to an accelerator or incubator?

Finalists are selected and contacted to complete round two for our judges to review. This process will take course over the month following the respective application period.

We have four application periods each year:

  • January/February application period—review in March
  • April/May application period—review in June
  • July/August application period—review in September
  • October/November application period—review in December

Think you’re ready? Click here to start your Cool Idea! Award application!