Global company Proto Labs, which bills itself as "the world's fastest provider of CNC machined parts and injection moulded parts," runs an award program called "Cool Idea!" whereby they award promising design concepts with credits to use their services. Introduced last year in the United States, "Cool Idea!" is being expanded into Europe this year, in keeping with the company's global facilities.
We've profiled some of the recipients of the Cool Idea! awards over the past year including Whirlwind Wheelchair's RoughRider and Professor James McLurkin's R-One Robot kit.
We're here to help make cool ideas come to life, in the form of smart, enjoyable, problem-solving, life-improving and of course, brilliantly successful products. There are a lot of competitions for products that are already in production and on the market. The Cool Idea! Award comes in much further upstream, at the design and development stage, when innovators are too often stymied by lack of resources to turn their ideas into real products.
If you're wondering about specifically what you can design, the competition is pretty open-ended in terms of content: "We look for anything that would make life a little better, easier, safer, healthier, less frustrating, more fun—if it's cool and it involves parts that Proto Labs can make, it's fair game," writes the company. And while they haven't specified what the individual awards breakdown will be, or even how many finalists they intend to select, they've reported the total credit awarded will add up to $250,000.
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed monthly, up until the final deadline at the end of this calendar year. And while winning a "Cool Idea!" award is no guarantee of future success--one of last year's winners was the non-Kickstarted Quickaddy we posted about earlier--as far as we can tell there's no application fee, so you've got no reason not to try. Check out the Rules & Regulations here.
Update from Proto Labs:
We just thought we'd get in touch to help clarify the parts it looks like there were some questions on in the article.
You're right, we're very open-ended as far as what kinds of products can be submitted, and ultimately what we choose to get awarded. We know there are tons of great ideas spanning many categories whose inventors are hoping to get their break, so we didn't want to limit what kinds of ideas can be submitted. Like we mention, as long as we can make it, there's a possibility of being a recipient of the award. That brings me to the individual breakdown of the awards and how many recipients we'll have. Since we don't know how many or when we'll receive applications for ideas we think should win a Cool Idea! Award, the specific number of winners and dates we'll name winners cannot be defined. As far as the breakdown of each award, that cannot be defined either, because each is different in its needs - we award the recipients our services free of charge to get that initial push.
The goal of the award is to give the inventors of these products we name as a Cool Idea! Award recipient the chance to get their idea off the ground when they may otherwise not have gotten that chance due to lack of resources or funding. Since we are in the business of providing prototype and short-run production parts, we stick to that, and the marketing (beyond our press release, exposure on our website, social media mentions, case study, etc) and ultimate future success of the product is up to the creator of the product.
There's no application fee, and people can apply up to four times per calendar year - as long as the ideas are significantly different from each other.