UC Berkeley’s New Alliance Boosts 3D Printing Resources for Hardware Startups

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Berkeley SkyDeck has joined forces with the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, University of California, Berkeley’s state-of-the-art interdisciplinary hub, to offer a big boost to hardware startups participating in the SkyDeck accelerator program. This new partnership means these startups can now access many high-quality facilities for prototyping and testing their products. Through SkyDeck, they’re getting the keys to advanced tools and expert guidance without paying a heavy price tag, making it easier and cheaper to turn their innovative ideas into real, functional products.

Here’s how it works: SkyDeck selects a small number of companies from its program to access the facilities at the Jacobs Institute. Hardware startups accepted to Berkeley SkyDeck’s accelerator program will be granted Entrepreneur Maker Passes, which provide access to the state-of-the-art Jacobs Makerspace. These passes allow holders to use a variety of tools in the Makerspace, including standard, experimental, and advanced 3D printers like the Stratasys (Nasdaq: SSYS) Fortus 380MC and Objet260 Connex3 multi-material color 3D printers; Formlabs’ Form 3 stereolithography (SLA) printer, and Markforged (NYSE: MKFG) X7 3D printer, as well as electronics and textile labs; a woodshop and metal shop; industrial robots; CNC routers and mills; 3D scanners; and much more.

Located at the College of Engineering, the Jacobs Institute’s advanced prototyping lab is equipped with these high-end devices to support the various prototyping needs of the startups. The program will also provide access to Jacobs’ in-house design specialists with expertise across design, engineering, and fabrication; free workshops and tool training to explore new skills; and access to its Material Store, where they can purchase materials for their prototypes at a lower price.

Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation. Image courtesy of the University of California, Berkeley.

Since 2012, SkyDeck has been a leader in fostering innovation, formed through a partnership between UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, the College of Engineering, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. It offers startups an ideal environment to develop and launch their businesses. With a rich ecosystem of advisors, industry partners, and investors, SkyDeck has helped over 800 companies to thrive and enter the market.

The Jacobs Institute is right next to SkyDeck, so startups don’t have to go far to use these tools and can even get advice on improving their prototypes. This could potentially save tens of thousands of dollars and significantly speed up the prototyping process. In fact, the financial savings for startups can be substantial, as demonstrated by UC Berkeley alum Alex James Eyeman, who explained that he significantly reduced his production costs using the Jacobs Makerspace.

“After working with the team at the Makerspace I was able to reduce the costs for a mold down from $40,000 to under $7,000 and the price per unit from $6 to $0.69,” said Eyeman. “If I had not known what I could learn only at the Jacobs Makerspace, my small business could have never gotten started.”

Similarly, UC Berkeley alum and mechanical engineer Taylor Waddell completed the Berkeley Skydeck Pad-13 accelerator program for his startup EduReality, which was key to developing both the company and personal entrepreneurial skills. There, he designed and developed multiple VR lab simulations for clients and educational institutions. Waddell then became Principal Investigator for the SpaceCAL Suborbital Project,  which tested 3D printing in space and benefited from the Institute’s hands-on design and rapid prototyping capabilities. Waddell, who is still in charge of the project, said working with the Jacobs Institute helped them make a successful experiment.

“Adapting a research technology for a harsh and complex field takes a lot of prototyping and tests and requires a hands-on understanding of design for manufacturing. The SpaceCAL project was created to test a new type of 3D printing in space environments, and working with JIDI allowed us to be hands-on with our designs and quickly learn from our mistakes to create the perfect experiment,” said Waddell.

Students at the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation. Image courtesy of the University of California, Berkeley.

As part of the partnership, the startups can also design iteratively and fine-tune their prototypes with the assistance of the Jacobs Institute’s in-house design advisors. In turn, SkyDeck startups will also engage with the student community at Jacobs Institute, either via a workshop or career conversation, sharing knowledge and maybe even finding new talent.

“The Jacobs Institute was designed as an interdisciplinary hub bringing together design methodology, technological innovation, and societal impact to tackle the biggest problems of today and tomorrow, unlike anything universities have done before. Working with SkyDeck allows us to expand our mission to a brand-new set of users,” added Eric Paulos, Faculty Director of the Jacobs Institute. “This is an exciting example of Berkeley’s various capabilities and resources coming together in a unique way to support entrepreneurs on a critical part of the product development process.”

Students 3D printing at the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation. Image courtesy of the University of California, Berkeley.

The Jacobs Institute got a $20 million donation to set up its space. Unlike other university maker spaces, anyone from UC Berkeley can use it for different projects if they get a Maker Pass. The programs of UC Berkeley, SkyDeck, and the Jacobs Institute share a focus not just on technological innovation but on societal impact. Having a high-quality prototype like the ones the Institute can help produce is often essential for a hardware startup to secure the funding it needs to make those impacts. With a proven status as the top university in the world for venture-funded startups, UC Berkeley is an ideal place to see 3D printing innovation being pushed to the max.

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