Ready for Fame and Fortune? 12 Not-to-Miss Industrial Design Competitions

by Cindy Glass
- Oct 21 2015 - 4 min read

Competitions can be an excellent way to showcase your work, get mentoring from experts, generate funding, and earn critical feedback on your ideas. If you are a hardware guru or aspiring to be one, you are in luck. Surging interest in hardware and product design is fueling growth of competitions dedicated to fostering the development of manufacturable products.

New industrial design competitions are springing up every year. To get you started, here are 12 that could help stimulate you and your team to take the drawing to prototype or prototype to market.

It’s worth noting that most of these competitions are held at roughly the same time every year. If you’ve missed this year’s deadline, hang tight because another chance will be coming around. And, for others, the topic or project might change, but the organization won’t. Keep delving!

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1. TechCrunch Startup Battlefield.

Who could resist participating in a competition that awards $50,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup? It’s not exclusively a hardware competition, but FitBit, for example, is an alum.

2. Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge.

Currently open for submissions and sponsored by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in partnership with Autodesk, the goal of this design challenge is “to eliminate the concept of ‘waste’ by designing products with materials that may be perpetually cycled to retain their value as nutrients to fuel growing global economies.” Prizes include $2,000 and a three-day pass to Autodesk University.

Designed with Autodesk Fusion 360, the Finite Faucet took top honors in the 2015 Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge.

3. National Hardware Cup.

AlphaLab Gear, in association with TechShop and other industry leaders, sponsors this competition across seven cities in the U.S. VC firm Startbot awards the winner with a $50,000 investment.

4. MassChallenge.

Based in Boston (with international extensions), this competition aims to “catalyze a startup renaissance.” Open to any industry, eligibility does require the company to be in seed or in early startup stages. Finalists compete for more than $2 million in grants.

5. IShow (Innovation Showcase)

Sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), this competition focuses on hardware-led social ventures. Winners share $500,000 in cash prizes and technical assistance.

6. IAM3D (Innovative Additive Manufacturing 3D) Challenge.

Also sponsored by ASME, this event is open to undergraduates interested in re-engineering existing products or designing new ones that minimize energy consumption. Each winning design receives $2,000.


7. ASME.

ASME has several other competitions that might suit your project, background interests, or specialty. Competitions include Human Powered Vehicle Challenge and ASME FutureME Video Contest.

8. Lexus Design Award.

Luxury car manufacturer Lexus is sponsoring theme-based design competitions to “[support] up-and-coming designers whose work contributes to shaping a better future.” Winners receive an invitation to Milan Design Week 2016, up to 3 million yen to assist in production costs of a prototype, and mentorship, among other prizes.

9. Cleantech Open.

This clean-technology-focused competition wants you to “give yourself an unfair advantage” by participating in its competition. Its mission is to “find, fund, and foster entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today’s most urgent energy, environmental, and economic challenges,” providing “entrepreneurs and technologists with the resources needed to launch and create successful and sustainable clean technology companies.” A variety of prizes are offered, with a number of regional finalists and a grand prize.

10. Launch Pad.

San Francisco–based Maker Media, founder of MakerCon and Maker Faire, started its maker-movement-derived contest in 2015 with great fanfare. No details for 2016 yet, but there are hopes it will become a repeat event. The 2015 winner received a $5,000 grand prize, a booth at Maker Faire Bay Area, a profile in Make: magazine, and features in the Maker Pro newsletter.


11. Makerspace Contest.

Instructables presents some fairly serious hardware prizes for the dedicated makers out there. Participants compete for more than $30,000 in prizes.


Could any list like this exclude the XPRIZE? With ambitions to “… make the impossible possible,” this organization and series of challenges swing big, and the winners just might change the world. Visit the XPRIZE website to see the variety of prizes and grand challenges available.

Some Rules of the Road for Industrial Design Competitions.

Winning is great, and sometimes the thrill of participation is enough stimulation to bring your project to fruition. However, not all lunches are free, and it’s worth investigating and absorbing the fine print for any competition you might pursue.

Below are a few questions you should consider before pursuing any outlet that introduces your idea to the world.

industrial_design_competitions_intellectual_propertyAre you comfortable with your intellectual property situation?

Most competitions will not guarantee that your idea is protected within the competition. Many, however, do not require the sharing of trade secrets to participate. Still, make sure your ideas are locked up to your satisfaction.

Do you understand who owns what at the end of the contest?

In some cases, win or lose, the contest promoter owns any work generated during the contest.

If one of the prizes is an equity investment, will you be giving up a percentage of your enterprise to an outside owner?

This is important to investigate and understand the implications. Outside investors can be extraordinary resources for shifting your concept into a viable, sustainable company, but be aware of how much equity and where it is going.

What kind of financial commitment is required?

Many competitions have application fees, and few pay for any required travel or expenses to award sites or ceremonies. Investigate any fees or expenditures you might have up front.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and design, disrupt, and make. Maybe you are just the one to change the world for the better!

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