Proto Labs Gives Entrepreneurs with Cool Ideas a Kickstart

    By Adrienne Burke | Small Business

    Floome, a handheld blood-alcohol detector, won a Cool Ideas Award

    For aspiring product designers, 201 Mulberry Street in New York City was the place to be last Thursday night. The Cool Idea Award Gallery event in the vacant storefront there showcased nine inventors and their novel products—each one clever enough to make you say, “I wish I had thought of that!”

    Proto Labs is a Minnesota-based maker of custom CNC-machined and injection-molded parts with operations worldwide that we reported on here last month. Its Cool Idea Award gives up to $250,000 each year in Proto Labs tooling services and parts production to entrepreneurs developing new products in the U.S. and Europe. Proto Labs says its intention is to help innovators bring their ideas to life. Seventeen awards have been made since 2011.

    The Everpurse cell-phone charging station is another Cool Ideas award winner

    The Cool Idea Award-winning products featured at the event last week were:

    • r-one: Robots that communicate with their users and with each other using an internal computer, motors, lights and sounds were designed by a Rice University professor and his students to give students the opportunity to research multi-robot engineering systems at a low cost.
    • Roughrider Wheelchair: A low cost, highly durable wheelchair that can handle rough terrain with ease was designed by Whirlwind Wheelchair International for people with disabilities in developing countries. Its long wheelbase and high-impact/high flotation wheel allows users to descend curbs and short flights of stairs and traverse obstacles.
    • SkyLight: A device that connects any smartphone to any microscope, designed to help transform global healthcare, telemedicine, science education, and research capabilities.
    • 6dot: A lightweight, hand-held Braille labeler.
    • SOLOSHOT: An object tracking system for pairing with any camera to track a subject and capture video from up to 2,000 feet.
    • Everpurse: A purse that features an integrated smartphone charging system.
    • FLOOME: A smartphone breathalyzer that provides accurate and reliable blood alcohol readings.
    • VOTO: A hand-held device that transforms heat into electricity for use in cell phone charging or LED lighting.
    • Garageio: A system that allows users to control and monitor their garage door via their smartphone from virtually anywhere.

    Sarah Braun, ProtoLabs marketing program manager, says the showcase drew more than 100 guests to touch the products and meet the inventors. Many were there to glean some wisdom from the judges—design world luminaries including PodDesign founder Brooks Atwood, OpenROV founder David Lang, Dragon Innovation CEO Scott Miller, IDEO designer Joe Rizk, Core77 managing editor Ray Hu, and Proto Labs founder Larry Lukis—on how to get their own ideas recognized by the contest. “There was a lot of buzz. You could feel energy in the room,” Braun says.

    Braun says the Proto Labs Cool Idea Award contest runs year round, and that contestants can enter any time, first with a written application, and then with a 3D CAD model upload that helps Proto Labs determine if it can help to produce the parts.

    Take a virtual tour of the gallery and check out all nine of this year’s Cool Idea Award winners online at

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