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 student grant program that provides an avenue for these ambitious student innovators to unlock further potential in their projects. 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.

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 contact them 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 for professional-quality 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.


Important dates and events for the spring 2019 grant cycle are as follows. Applicants, please keep a calendar hold for the September 13th kickoff event, so that you are available to attend if selected. Grantees will be expected to briefly present their projects and receive initial feedback from the Jacobs student advisory board and Jacobs and CITRIS Invention Lab staff.

  • Monday, September 2nd at 11:59pm: Application deadline.
  • Wednesday, September 11th: Selected grantees are notified.
  • Friday, September 13th from 2-4pm: Grant cycle kickoff event.
  • September to December: Grantees work on their projects.
  • Friday, October 25th from 2-4pm: Midterm check-in meeting.
  • Wednesday and Thursday, December 11th and 12th: Grantees present their work at the Jacobs Winter Design Showcase. End of grant cycle.

Application process

The application for the fall 2020 cohort will open later in the fall semester and be due during the winter break. 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)
  • Submit a single PDF file, no larger than 10 MB
  • Create your project timeline and budget using these provided templates
  • Organize your proposal following the outline provided in the following “content and outline guidelines” section
  • File name should be Project Title_Grant Type_Fall 2019 (e.g., “Transmogrifier_Ignite Grant_Fall 2019″)

Content and outline 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
    • Project timeline, using the provided template (see formatting guidelines)
    • 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, using the provided template (see formatting guidelines)
    • Do not include Maker Pass semester access fees in your budget; Maker Passes will be provided to all grantees in addition to their requested funding
    • 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

To 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.

Read about the current and past grant cohorts: