Invention Addict Guest Post By Larry Lukis

Since we launched the Cool Idea! program this spring, we’ve received a ton of inspiring ideas that have the potential to make a real difference in the marketplace. It’s a lot of fun to see — especially for an engineer and entrepreneur like me (I’ll admit to having a soft-spot for our kind).

If you don’t know about it, Cool Idea! is our new award program offering up to $100,000 worth of prototyping and short-run production services to support product and design ideas. As a company that specializes in prototyping and short-run production, Proto Labs is literally in the business of ideas. We’re convinced there’s a single good idea at the root of every innovation that changes our lives for the better – and we know some of them need a little help making the jump from concept to commercial success. That’s where we come in.

In addition to seeing some excellent submissions, the question I get most often is “How do you define an intangible like ‘cool?’’ The short answer is that it really boils down to what we think is cool, which could be … anything.

The longer answer looks more like a list of some of the things I associate with “cool.” This is a general framework, and not in any way intended to be limiting or exhaustive. I’m hopeful you’ll recognize some of your Big Ideas in these buckets, and I’m even more hopeful you’ll surprise me by sharing ideas that should be immediately added to the mix.

  • Robotics and unmanned vehicles of all sorts. If they fly, they’re even cooler.
  • Frankly, all kinds of vehicles are pretty cool – cars, boats, bicycles, you name it.
  • Accessories to support any of the above. Very high cool-factor.
  • Techy gadgets – can’t have too many of these.
  • Renewable energy. While we’re not going to solve the world’s problems here, every little bit helps.
  • Innovative applications of plastic parts.
  • Student engineering design competitions that have anything to do with renewable energy, energy efficiency, autonomous motion or control.
  • Good causes. It turns out that some of the best early contenders for the first awards are just plain good causes. Not so much cool in the design sense, but cool in the sense of helping to move important, socially-minded projects forward.

If you have a Cool Idea!, we want to know about it. The ball’s in your court to get started by developing a 3D CAD model. From there, the process is simple: Submit your design to, and tell us what makes your project or product cool. If you’re selected, we’ll work with you to get beyond the idea stage, and out into the real world. We can’t wait to see what you’re thinking about.

Larry Lukis is the founder and chief technology officer of Proto Labs. He serves as the chief judging officer of Cool Idea!

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