The Jacobs Institute Innovation Catalysts

October 13, 2017 | 10:58 am


Every semester, students bring a wide range of innovative projects to life at Jacobs Hall and throughout Berkeley’s vibrant design ecosystem. The Jacobs Institute Innovation Catalysts, made possible by the Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation, is a new student grant program that provides an avenue for these ambitious student innovators to unlock further potential in their projects.

Array of 3D printed bones.Berkeley students are invited to propose projects that they aim to develop over the course of a semester. Selected grantees will work on their projects with the support of resources from the Jacobs Institute and CITRIS Invention Lab, and as part of a cohort of fellow student innovators.

Reflecting a focus on shared investment within the institute’s student design community, the Jacobs Institute Student Advisory Board (SAB) plays a key role in the grant selection process. SAB members, who represent diverse perspectives from the student community, review and make finalist recommendations on grant submissions.

Program structure

The Innovation Catalysts are awarded on a biannual basis, in January and September; several grants will be awarded during each grant cycle.

Two types of grants are offered in the Innovation Catalysts program:

  • Ignite grants are for in-progress projects, with existing prototypes and demonstrated potential for impact. Up to $2000 will be awarded for each project. Are you working on a project that you can’t imagine stopping once the semester ends? Apply for an Ignite grant!
  • Spark grants are for early-stage projects or ideas. Up to $500 will be awarded for each project. Do you have a great idea and seek funding to make it a reality? Apply for a Spark grant!

Grantees commit to:

  • Making significant progress on their project during the grant cycle.
  • Staying engaged with the Jacobs Institute and their grant cohort throughout the semester, including by attending a mid-semester check-in meeting.
  • Publicly presenting their work as part of the Jacobs Design Showcase at the end of the semester, and providing visual and text material about their projects, to be featured in the Jacobs Institute’s marketing and communications.

Bank of Hysteria student team standing near their project display (a box printing out sheets of paper on receipt paper).

Grant Resources

Grantees receive monetary stipends at the start of the grant cycle, as requested in their grant proposals. Stipends are disbursed in the form of department awards from the UC Berkeley Financial Aid & Scholarships Office. Please inquire if you have questions about how receiving a grant would affect your financial aid package or taxes.

The grantees in each grant cycle will form a cohort, with members serving as peers and resources for each other. In addition to the grant stipends, grantees will receive support from the Maker Pass ecosystem at Jacobs Hall and the CITRIS Invention Lab, including advising from staff and sponsored Maker Passes.

Winners of Ignite grants will also receive support to develop audio/visual documentation of their work.

Eligibility and selection criteria

Applicant eligibility: Applicants can apply as individuals or in teams of up to five members. Everyone on the applicant team must be an active UC Berkeley student and present on campus during the grant cycle. Both undergraduate and graduate students, from all departments and programs, are eligible. 

Project eligibility: All projects must make use of the Maker Pass program. Beyond that, we welcome a wide range of projects at the intersection of design and technology innovation, reflecting the multitude of talents and interests in the Jacobs community.

Selection criteria: The Jacobs Student Advisory Board and leadership will evaluate applications based on the strength of the project, written proposal, and applicants. Projects should align with the Jacobs mission and values, make meaningful use of Maker Pass resources, balance innovation and ambition with feasibility, and have potential for high impact on an identified design/technological challenge. Proposals should be clear and detailed. Applicants should demonstrate that they have the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to succeed.

The selection committee will cultivate a grant cohort that represents the diversity of the Berkeley community and fosters an inclusive design community. To that end, students from underrepresented or nontraditional backgrounds are encouraged to apply and share their perspectives in their grant proposals.


Important dates and events for the spring 2019 grant cycle are as follow:

  • Tuesday, January 1st at 11:59pm: Application deadline.
  • Late January: Grantees are notified and publicly announced.
  • Friday, February 1st from 2-4pm: Grant cycle kickoff event.
  • February to May: Grantees work on their projects.
  • Friday, March 15th from 3-5pm: Midterm check-in meeting.
  • Wednesday and Thursday, May 8th and 9th: Grantees present their work at the Jacobs Spring Design Showcase. End of grant cycle.
  • Grantee demos low-cost scientific instruments.

Application process

The fall 2019 application will be open later this year; to receive an alert when applications are ready, go to the Learn More section on this page. The application form requests basic information about your project and then ask you to upload a detailed proposal. Proposals must follow the formatting and content guidelines below:

Formatting guidelines

  • 1600 word count limit (appendices do not count as part of the word limit, but brevity is still encouraged)
  • Single PDF file, no larger than 10 MB
  • File name should be Project Title_Grant Type_Spring 2019 (e.g., “Transmogrifier_Ignite Grant_Spring 2019″)

Content guidelines

  1. Basic/introductory information
    • Project name
    • One paragraph project overview that includes your problem-framing statement (What challenge does your project address? Who or what would benefit from your proposed solution?)
  2. Detailed information
    • Current state of your project (What work has been done already?) and its origins (e.g., from a class, club, personal work, etcetera)
    • How you would use an Innovation Catalyst grant to help your project progress
    • Other information that addresses the grant program selection criteria
  3. Project plan
    • Proposed project timeline for spring 2019
    • How you will track project progress (e.g., metrics and midway goals)
    • Expected deliverable by the end of the grant cycle in May 
  4. Budget
    • An itemized project budget that shows how you plan to use your stipend. Do not include Maker Pass fees in your budget request, as Jacobs will fund these separately. Make sure your budget is comprehensive, as additional funding will not be provided partway through the grant cycle.
    • Other funding that your project has received (e.g., other grants, funding from a principal investigator, etcetera)
  5. Supplemental media
    • Required for Ignite grant proposals and optional, but encouraged, for Spark grant proposals
    • Could include sketches, photos, video, etcetera
    • Could be interspersed in the proposal or included as appendices

Learn more

Read about the spring 2019 cohort hereTo receive announcements about the Innovation Catalysts program, including reminders about upcoming key dates, sign up to receive alerts. Contact Amy Dinh, student services & programs manager, at for questions.