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From prototype to scalable tool

A growing number of makers, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs are paving the way by producing lower-cost, higher-quality, easier-to-use hardware tools. But many inventors find it difficult to turn their prototypes into effective and useful tools that can be sustainably produced at scale.

The Tool Foundry accelerator is a four-month program emphasizing education and collaboration to help inventor teams strengthen their tools and build a foundation for sustainable growth. Every team has different needs — from business planning to user testing. The accelerator experience includes customized support and curated resources to help teams rapidly address barriers, fill gaps, and develop sustainable business models.

As part of the accelerator, cohort members have access to the following:

$50,000 per team

$50,000 per team

Non-dilutive funding to offset expenses associated with participation in the accelerator.

Educational sessions

Educational sessions

Virtual learning modules from experts on topics including user-centered design, sustainable business modeling, and supply chain optimization.

Technical guidance

Technical guidance

Expert guidance, exercises, and resources to iterate and develop tools and put learnings into practice.

Mentorship and networking

Mentorship and networking

Connection to industry leaders for expert advice, on-demand problem-
solving, and relationship building.

Learning from users

Learning from users

Partnerships with community organizations to put tools in the hands of potential users for testing, feedback, and community building.

Peer collaboration

Peer collaboration

Virtual and in-person opportunities to collaborate, share expertise, and learn from fellow cohort members.

Meet the cohort

We received 71 applications from inventor teams working on a wide variety of tools from across the country, representing universities, startups, makerspaces, and hardware organizations. 

The Tool Foundry review panel conducted the first round of application review, narrowing the field to 12 cohort candidates. The cohort candidates presented to the selection committee and answered questions about the potential impact of their tools and how they plan to scale. 

Based on the selection criteria — including team ability, growth potential, and vision — Tool Foundry invited five teams to join the accelerator cohort. These cohort teams are working on accessible tools in application areas including biomedical imaging, health and environmental monitoring, and digital fabrication. 

Feles One Desktop Biolab, Feles

An all-in-one desktop biolab that integrates multiple scientific instruments, including a thermo-cycler, spectrometer, and centrifuge, to complete most molecular biology and synthetic biology experiments. Feles enables anyone to discover and invent with biotechnology.

MakeItSo, University of Washington

An end-to-end, open-source solution for scripted, machine-driven processes that require the precision and accuracy of computer control. MakeItSo is a flexible platform for scientists to design and execute custom experiments with multiple tools.

Octopi, Prakash Lab

A open-access, modular and high-throughput microscope that can be rapidly configured for specific applications in disease diagnosis, environmental monitoring, and research.

On-Target Cards, Access Sensor Technologies

A credit card-sized sampling tool that enables anyone to perform fast, quantitative testing of multiple elements found in water and soil. The cards can be used to monitor any source of water, including streams, rivers, and lakes.

Spectra, Mindseye Biomedical

A portable, open-source, biomedical imaging system that uses the same method as a CAT scan for real-time, inexpensive image reconstructions. Spectra enables anyone to explore medical physics from their own home, without expensive hospital equipment. 

Accelerator roadmap

Open applications

April 4 - May 30, 2019

The accelerator seeks to support individuals or teams who are developing accessible tools for scientific discovery.

Applications closed at 5:00 p.m. EDT on May 30, 2019. See the application form here.

Cohort selection

June - July 2019

Cohort candidate selection: June 2019
The review panel and selection committee invited up to 12 teams to participate in cohort candidate presentations.

Cohort candidate presentations: July 9, 2019
Cohort candidate teams presented prototypes and participated in a live Q&A with the selection committee at Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington D.C.

Cohort selection: July 2019
The selection committee chose five teams to join the accelerator cohort. 


July - November 2019

Accelerator period: July – November 2019
Cohort teams receive $50,000 each and participate in virtual and in-person accelerator activities. 

Boot Camp: August 20 – 21, 2019
Cohort teams convene at Autodesk Technology Center in San Francisco, in partnership with Autodesk Foundation, for a two-day, in-person workshop for cohort collaboration, educational sessions, expert feedback, and interactive exercises. 


November 18, 2019

The five cohort teams will present their tools at a celebratory Tool Foundry Showcase at Kickstarter HQ in Brooklyn, New York.

Don’t miss the chance to attend the Showcase: sign up for the Tool Foundry Journal and be the first to know when tickets are available.

Selection criteria

The Tool Foundry accelerator supports high-potential teams with prototypes for tools that meet real needs.

We are committed to promoting equity in all aspects of the Tool Foundry initiative. Teams with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences, including those from historically marginalized groups were encouraged to apply. 

The Team

The accelerator is designed to bring together a diverse cohort of teams committed to expanding access to science. The strongest candidates are well-rounded teams who have tool prototypes, but need help to scale and sustain them.

The selection committee used the following criteria to evaluate teams.

  • Ability.
    Demonstrated ability of the team to develop the tool as proposed and scale it beyond the program timeframe.
  • Growth potential.
    Extent to which the team demonstrates awareness of gaps, openness to feedback, and commitment to advancing their tool and team.
  • Vision.
    Belief in the mission of expanding access to science; expressed interest in scaling the tool and developing additional tools to further address access to science.

The Tool

We support tools that are low-cost, high-quality, and easy-to-use for scientific discovery. “Low-cost” may mean free, $5, or $50 — most importantly, the tool must provide a significant decrease in cost or increase in performance that expands access in a meaningful way.

Tools should be physical tools or hardware in the prototype stage of development. A prototype can be low-fidelity as long as it demonstrates what the tool will look like and how it will work.

The selection committee used the following criteria to evaluate tools.

  • Impact.
    Extent to which the tool has the potential to drive scientific exploration and meet the needs of a broad population of users.
  • Accessibility.
    Potential for the tool to be easily and affordably acquired or constructed; extent to which the tool addresses barriers to public participation in science.
  • Innovation.
    Ingenuity of the engineering and/or approach; extent to which the tool is a departure from or improvement on what is currently on the market.
  • Performance.
    Extent to which the tool is high-quality, consistent, and can be effectively used for the proposed use cases.

Help build the accessible tools community.

Tool Foundry is proud to be part of an inspiring community expanding access to science. Help us advance powerful scientific discovery tools anyone can use.

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