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 Deborah Weisser, Ben Gomes, and 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.

Learn more about the Spring ’22 grantees.

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 Jacobs Hall makerspace and the CITRIS Invention Lab, including advising from staff and sponsored Maker Passes. 

Eligibility and selection criteria

Applicant eligibility:

  • All UC Berkeley students–both undergraduate and graduate students and from all departments and programs–are eligible. All applicants must be active UC Berkeley students and present on campus during the grant cycle. 
  • Ignite grant: only team projects are eligible for the Ignite grant; teams can be from two to five members in size.
  • Spark grant: students can apply as individuals or in teams of up to five members.
  • Students can only participate in one grant project per semester; we advise against submitting multiple proposals except if they are multiple solo Spark proposals.

Project eligibility:

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, as long as they fall within these guidelines:

  • All projects must demonstrate how they will make use of Jacobs Institute resources, including but not limited to makerspace resources
  • Projects associated with commercial entities or purposes are ineligible. See the FAQ for more information.
  • This program is best suited for projects at the exploration and prototyping stage; projects that are ready to scale up or are mainly seeking funding to support administrative costs will find more suitable support through other programs.

Selection criteria: The Jacobs Student Advisory Board and leadership will evaluate applications based on the strength of the project, written proposal, and applicants. More detailed guidance and tips are provided in the proposal writing template.

  • Projects should align with the Jacobs mission and values, make meaningful use of Jacobs resources, balance innovation and ambition with feasibility, and have potential for high impact on an identified design/technological challenge.
  • Proposals should be written in a clear, detailed, and organized manner that is accessible to an interdisciplinary review committee.
  • Applicants should demonstrate that they have the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to succeed.
  • Applicants must also include a statement on how their project would advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. 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.

Timeline & Program Events

Important dates and events for the spring 2022 grant cycle are as follow. We are planning for grant cohort events (i.e. kickoff, midterm check-in, and showcase) to be held primarily in-person and in compliance with current campus public health guidance. 

Spring 2022 dates

  • Monday, January 31st 3-5pm: Grant cycle kickoff for spring 2022 cohort
  • Friday, March 11th from 3-5pm: Midterm check-in meeting
  • Wednesday and Thursday, May 4th and 5th: Grantees present their work at the Jacobs Design Showcase at the end of the grant cycle

Application process

Information about the fall 2022 grant cycle will be posted in summer 2022. To receive announcements about the Innovation Catalysts program, including reminders about upcoming key dates, sign up to this listserv.

The application form requests basic information about your project and team, and then asks you to upload a detailed proposal. Follow the instructions on this template to develop your proposal; it contains formatting and content guidelines and advice on how to develop a stronger application.


Can Berkeley students who are on leave for the semester participate in the grant program? How about non-UC Berkeley students? 

Only actively enrolled Berkeley students may participate in the Innovation Catalysts program. Non-Berkeley students cannot be grant recipients. Grantees can still collaborate with non-students, but their collaborators cannot receive grant benefits.

Do I need to be on Berkeley campus in order to participate in the grant program?

Only students who are present on campus for the semester may participate in the Innovation Catalysts program, in order to fully benefit from the experience. 

Should I apply for a Spark or Ignite grant?

The key differentiator between the two grants is the state of your project at the time you apply. If you have an idea but do not yet have a first prototype or proof of concept, the Spark grant would be more appropriate. If you wish to continue developing an existing prototype that already has demonstrated impact, the Ignite grant would be more appropriate. For Ignite grants, there is a higher expectation for progress made prior to the grant program and a more advanced deliverable achieved by the end of the program.

Do you have tips for how to create a good application? 

The Selection Criteria section of this page provides guidance about what the review committee considers to be a strong application and the proposal template provides further guidance. 

Is there a limit for how many times I can receive an Innovation Catalysts grant?

A grant project can receive Innovation Catalysts support up to two times (does not have to be sequential semesters). There is no specified limit on how many times an individual student can participate with different projects, although the grant committee will take prior participation into the grant program into consideration.

Do I retain intellectual property ownership of my grant projects?

The Jacobs Institute does not take ownership over any student work. Grant projects are still subject to UC Berkeley intellectual property policies, however. Please review the intellectual property FAQ for more information about how any policies might affect your project.

Can I use this grant to work on projects for a current or future startup?

Jacobs Hall resources are intended to support coursework, personal learning and open research. Early stage prototyping by individual students is considered under this category. However, Jacobs Hall resources may not be used for commercial purposes without a separate agreement with the Jacobs Institute. Projects for an already incorporated startup or business are considered to be in this latter category. Please review the intellectual property FAQ for more information.

Learn more

Students with further questions about the application process can review the info session recording from fall 2021.

To receive announcements about the Innovation Catalysts program, including reminders about upcoming key dates and application cycles, please sign up to this listserv. Contact Amy Dinh at for questions. Read about the current and past grant cohorts: