FAQ

Have questions about the program? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve listed below some of the more common ones we hear. Looking for something specific? You can search this page by typing Control+F (Windows) or Command+F (Mac).

  1. About Amazon Catalyst
    1. What is Amazon Catalyst?
      Amazon Catalyst is a new collaboration with select universities whose mission is to seek out and fund bold and risky projects proposed by members of the university community. Amazon Catalyst is NOT a research fund and is not appropriate for basic research. Rather, it is a "project fund": proposals must address a visible problem in the world and must present a practical solution to that problem. Grants are awarded for up to $100,000 for projects lasting from 3-18 months, and successful applicants are given the title "Amazon Catalyst Fellow.” All members of the university community are eligible to apply, including students, faculty, and staff from all disciplines, including the humanities, arts, sciences, and engineering. Amazon Catalyst’s first collaboration is with the University of Washington (UW) and is coordinated through the university’s innovation hub, CoMotion.
    2. Why is Amazon building the Catalyst program?
      The purpose of the Amazon Catalyst program is to learn more about problems that people see in the world, to support early stage ideas that address these problems, to integrate and engage with academic communities, and to develop ecosystems of innovation in places where we have a presence. Amazon's headquarters are in Seattle, so it is 100% in our interest to have people doing really cool things here in our local community.
    3. Why the University of Washington?
      We are very excited to be collaborating with the University of Washington as our first Amazon Catalyst institution. As a world-class research institution with over 50,000 students, over 5,000 faculty members, over 15,000 staff members, and over 100 academic departments, UW is a vibrant source of bold ideas and creative people! But perhaps most importantly, the UW is our neighbor here in Seattle. By working together, we can build a strong, long-lasting, local ecosystem of innovation.
    4. Will there be more universities that collaborate with Amazon Catalyst?
      While the UW is our first collaborating institution, we are open to expanding Amazon Catalyst to other institutions around the world.
    5. What differentiates Amazon Catalyst from other university programs led by technology companies?
      Companies and universities have engaged in collaborations for many years. Conventionally, these collaborations have centered on “technology” companies funding “technology research” for the “technology needs of today.” However, Amazon Catalyst is different. We are less interested in research and more interested in *impact*. What are the problems that you see today that are not being addressed? What are the "pain points" that frustrate you or others? What do you want to do to solve these problems? We aim to fund bold, disruptive ideas at the conceptual stage to enable the first steps of validation; many of these ideas will be too early for venture capital funding and too unconventional for traditional research funding. We accept ideas not only from faculty, but also from the broader university community, including undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs, staff members, medical personnel, and others. We fund people in all fields of study, including the humanities, social sciences, and arts. And lastly, the process for getting a grant is super simple and crazy fast: it is possible to receive funding in under 90 days. So yes, this program is unlike anything else out there :).
  2. About Amazon Catalyst Grants
    1. Who can apply for Amazon Catalyst grants?
      Any member of the University of Washington community can apply, including students, faculty, and staff. People from all three UW campuses (Seattle, Tacoma, and Bothell) are eligible. Note that a @uw.edu or @u.washington.edu email address is required for submission.
    2. Wait, I'm not a "researcher". Can I still apply for an Amazon Catalyst grant?
      Absolutely yes! Amazon Catalyst is a *project* fund, not a research fund. In fact, we encourage applications from all members of the university community, whether you're a freshman, second-year grad student, librarian, post-doc, staff member, nurse, etc. If you're affiliated with the UW, you're set!
    3. I’m a theater major. You can’t possibly be allowing me to apply for these grants, right?
      Awards are not limited to engineering and the sciences – projects in the humanities, social sciences, arts, etc. will be considered as well and are encouraged.
    4. How do I apply for an Amazon Catalyst grant?
      It’s really simple. Just click here and follow the instructions. The application is just 20 short questions and can be completed in one visit. If you want to view the questions offline, you can download them here in doc or pdf format. Note that all proposals must be submitted online via the application form on this website.
    5. When are applications accepted?
      You can apply whenever you feel inspired! Innovation doesn’t need to fit fiscal or academic year requirements, and we accept applications throughout the year. However, please note that we only *evaluate* applications four times per year (once per quarter). Please check the application page to find out the next cutoff date for evaluation.
    6. Can I apply more than once?
      Sure – there is no limit to the number of applications you can submit. But you can only win and pursue one award at a time (just in case you happen to be chock full of great ideas).
    7. I am not a member of the university community. Can I apply for an Amazon Catalyst grant?
      While you can be a member of a team that applies for a grant, you cannot be listed as the project lead. The project lead must be a current student, faculty member, or staff member at the UW.
    8. I’m an alumnus of the UW. Can I apply?
      While you can be a member of a team that applies for a grant, you cannot be listed as the project lead. The project lead must be a current student, faculty member, or staff member at the UW.
    9. What types of ideas are you looking for?
      The world has a lot of problems. Some are complex (climate change). Others are simpler (how to find a lost pet). We’re looking for solutions to problems that you have or you see experienced by others. Preference will be given to big, super-creative projects that specify milestones that can be achieved reasonably in the time frame and budget of a grant. No prior data is needed – early stage projects are fine. You can review the evaluation criteria here for details about how we evaluate proposals. You can read about the past winners here to learn more about projects that we have funded.
    10. What types of ideas are you NOT looking for?
      Proposals that do not describe a solution to a problem that people have will not make good projects for Amazon Catalyst grants. Basic research projects whose end goal is to publish a paper or to collect more knowledge are also not appropriate for the program. Try to avoid copycat business models (e.g., a university-based social network), ideas that have limited potential to scale (e.g., a restaurant), or ideas with limited benefit to society (e.g., a new, addictive, mobile game). This is going to be a lot of work – make it worth it! Grants will not be awarded to fund incremental research (e.g., “our next step in the five-year program is to do...”), or to simply "keep the lab running", so to speak. There are other ways to do that.
    11. Do you have examples of funded ideas?
      Yes, please consult the Past Winners page to learn more about projects that we have funded.
    12. Do ideas have to be related to Amazon or Amazon’s business?
      No. Projects do not need to have any connection with Amazon or with Amazon’s businesses (we’re actually pretty good at innovating on our own products already). So take the Amazon Catalyst program as an opportunity to dream big about whatever it is that is your passion!
    13. How much money is an Amazon Catalyst grant?
      The amount of funding that is awarded to selected applicants is variable: it is based on the nature of the project and the work required to test the proof-of-concept. Typical funding is in the ballpark range of $25,000 to $75,000 per project up to a maximum of $100,000 per project. Grants have no overhead costs: 100% of awarded funding goes to the applicants.
    14. How many awards will you be giving out each year?
      There is no set limit to the number of awards we will be giving out each year. This is not a competition – if we see a lot of good ideas, we’ll give out a lot of awards.
    15. What are my chances of getting an award?
      To calculate this figure accurately, we’d have to know exactly how many proposals we will receive and how many awards we will give out. In our first year, roughly 1/3 of applications were invited to give a presentation. Rest assured, every application will be read, reviewed and carefully considered. We know how much work goes into preparing them.
    16. How long do I have to carry out the project?
      The timeframe to complete will vary from project to project and will be established at the time of the award. To give you a ballpark figure, typical projects will take between 3-12 months to complete, with the maximum duration of a project being 18 months.
    17. Do I have sign a contract if I am awarded an Amazon Catalyst grant?
      Yes, provided you wish to accept the funding. As a condition of accepting an Amazon Catalyst grant, you and members of your team (if applicable) will be required to sign a Grant Agreement with the University of Washington describing the grant and associated terms.
    18. What if my idea is confidential?
      Amazon and the UW respect your ideas, but any information disclosed as part of the application process is not confidential. We ask that you do not submit confidential information as part of your application.
    19. What about the intellectual property (IP) that I develop as part of a project? Who owns it?
      Amazon Catalyst is a program designed to fund projects that explore new areas and create new things. As a result, in can be expected that intellectual property may be developed throughout the course of some grants. Please be aware that if you do accept an Amazon Catalyst grant, the intellectual property rights—including any patents or copyrights that you develop in connection with your project—will be owned by the University of Washington. There are additional terms associated with the intellectual property developed in connection with your project described here. If you have any questions about intellectual property or other legal terms, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the resources listed below.
    20. What if I have additional questions about intellectual property for the Amazon Catalyst program?
      If you are an undergraduate student, contact the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic. If you are a graduate student, post-doc, faculty member, or staff member, contact CoMotion, or send an email to the program administrator, Dr. Jeanette Ennis at comoazon@uw.edu. In addition, you are always welcome to reach out to an attorney of your choice.
  3. About the Application Process
    1. Can I apply alone or do I need a team?
      You’re welcome to apply alone or as a team. If you are applying alone, but the project requires putting together a team or otherwise getting some help, please indicate in the logistics section how you hope to accomplish this. Note that all teams are required to have a “project lead” (see below for a description).
    2. What do you mean by “project lead”?
      The project lead is the point person who will be responsible for carrying out the project, and is typically the person writing the application. The project lead will be the project manager and will handle financial obligations. As a result, he/she should have relevant knowledge of the topic proposed and a deep commitment to carrying out the project in a full-time capacity. For scientific projects, he/she would be the de facto “principal investigator...” For more entrepreneurial projects, he/she would be the de facto “CEO,” and capable of investigating the business landscape surrounding the innovation to determine commercial viability. Note that the project lead must be a student, faculty or staff member at the UW and have a UW email address (e.g., @uw.edu or @u.washington.edu).
    3. I am a graduate student or post-doctoral fellow. Do I need my supervisor’s permission to apply? Do I have to list him/her as a co-applicant?
      No, however you will need to have a conversation with your supervisor prior to accepting an award. You are certainly welcome to include him/her as a co-applicant (and especially if you think his/her involvement will be helpful to successfully carrying out the project), but listing one’s supervisor is not a requirement for winning an Amazon Catalyst grant. If your project requires laboratory space, you will need to get your advisor’s permission to use that laboratory. If not, then no worries – Amazon Catalyst funding can be used to pay for other on- or off-campus lab space.
    4. Where do I upload my resume/CV?
      Rather than uploading your resume or CV, we would rather you just upload a paragraph of your accomplishments that are relevant to carrying out the proposed project. We are less concerned with your “bona fides” (degrees, titles, etc.) and more concerned with what experience you have that may help you carry out the project. For example, if you are proposing to build a new type of sailboat, do you have experience building (or sailing) boats? If you have a team, make sure to include background information about all the members listed.
    5. What’s a “press release” and why are you asking me to write one?

      A press release is a public announcement issued to the news media for the purpose of letting the public know about newsworthy developments in an organization. Creating a hypothetical press release helps you clarify your thinking, provides a high-level overview of your project, and explains who would benefit and how they would benefit. It’s a very helpful exercise!

      Write the press release from the perspective of a public relations department either from the university or from your group (which may be an organization or company), describing the successful completion of the project. When you write it, imagine that real people who care about the solution are going to read it. Use as few words as possible and choose words that a reader not educated in your topic would understand (avoid jargon or marketing buzzwords like “simple,” “easy,” “fast,” etc.). Put the most important information first - imagine that no one reads past the first paragraph. And of course, be sure to tell a compelling story. Here is a suggested outline to help you get going:

      1. Use a press heading: "<city> (NEWS WIRE) – <date of project completion> –"
      2. Describe your project
      3. Who will benefit and how they will benefit
      4. The opportunity or problem
      5. The approach or solution
      6. Quotes from people on your team that capture the value of the project
      7. Hypothetical testimonials from the people that would benefit from the project that reinforce why they care about your project
      8. How people can get started, get involved or learn more
    6. Do you have any examples of press releases I can use for guidance?
      Sure. You can find examples of press releases here in doc or pdf format.
    7. You mention that projects should address big problems. What do you mean?
      The problem around which your project is focused should be a large-impact, human-relevant problem that is based on and cites data and statistics for support. It should not be a technical problem, or a “this does not yet exist” problem (just because something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that it should be done!). For example, the problem should not be phrased as “X does not yet exist...” or “it is currently not possible to do X…” but rather, “X people die each year from tuberculosis worldwide” or “X people have their computer accounts hacked each year, costing the United States economy over $X dollars...” Note that we do not require that the project proposed in the application completely solve the problem that we ask you to describe – it can be just the first step toward solving that problem.
    8. You mention that projects should focus on solutions. Can you clarify?
      Your project should outline specific tasks toward an achievable goal, and should not be an academic study for the sake of learning. For example, if the problem being addressed is the impact of climate change on a specific population of people, the solution should not be to “study a specific population of people impacted by climate change,” but rather, to “build a program to do X for people impacted by climate change.” Likewise, if the problem being addressed is lung cancer, the solution should not be “to study a signal transduction pathway related to lung cancer,” but rather to “synthesize a new drug for the treatment of lung cancer based on the X signal transduction pathway.”
    9. Why do you ask us about the “customer”? I’m not proposing a new product for Amazon!
      Thinking about who benefits from one’s work is an important task. If nobody benefits from the project, then one might question why you would even want to do it in the first place! Note that this is often a difficult question to answer. It is unlikely that *everyone* will care about your solution. More likely, it will be a specific person or group of people that have a vested interest in solving the problem. For example, if your solution is a new type of X-ray machine for medical imaging, the people that care the most about it may not be the patients that receive the X-rays, or the physicians that administer them, but rather, the hospital-based purchasers that are responsible for ordering new equipment and maintaining a high quality of care in the system.
    10. Why do you ask us about why “now” is the right time to do this project? Is timing that important in innovation?
      Sometimes a project describes a good solution but at the wrong time. We want you to think about why now is a good time to be pursuing this project. Have certain events brought an issue to the public’s attention? Has a new technology enabled the project to work now that wasn’t available in the past?
    11. Do I need to provide a demo video / website / picture / etc.?
      While visuals, videos, and websites are helpful, they are by no means necessary for being selected. Visuals can be diagrams outlining the scope of a problem in the world, photos of a product, a timeline for completion, etc. A visual can be as simple as a sketch on a sheet of paper that you scan in. A video can be as simple as you standing in front of a white board explaining what you want to do.
    12. How do I upload my demo video / website / picture / etc.?
      Rather than have you upload directly to our site, we prefer that you include a link. For visuals, please include a link to a single PDF (.pdf) or PowerPoint presentation (.ppt) file. The file should be located in a publicly accessible online directory and should not exceed 10 MB in size. For videos, just include a link to a video-sharing site. For websites, just include a link to the website.
    13. Where do I upload my business plan?
      We don’t care about a formal “business plan” so to speak. Answer the questions in the application and you’ll be set.
    14. I’ve already submitted an application but I want to change it. Can I do this?
      If the deadline for submissions has not yet passed, then just resubmit the application (make sure to keep the same title). We will only review the most recently submitted application. If the deadline has passed, you can request to withdraw your application and have it evaluated in the next cycle by reaching out to our team here).
    15. How will I be informed about the status of the application after submission?
      We’ll send you a confirmation email after submission and will keep you periodically updated about the status of your application until a decision has been made.
    16. Is there a complete list of rules for the application process?
      Yes. Please click here for the link to the program rules.
  4. About the Evaluation Process
    1. What is the evaluation process for Amazon Catalyst proposals?
      Amazon Catalyst proposals are evaluated in a three-stage process as described here:
      1. The first stage is a screen of initial applications to ensure that they meet the criteria for a grant. Proposals in this stage will be evaluated on a variety of factors including (i) how well the proposal addresses a need faced by people, (ii) how well the proposal describes development of a product to address that need (the solution), (iii) the novelty and creativity of the solution, (iv) the scalability of the solution, (v) how well the proposal outlines specific tasks towards an achievable goal, (vi) the capability of the team in carrying out the specific tasks outlined, (vii) the readbility of the application, and (viii) the potential of the project to capture the attention of the public.
      2. Applicants whose proposals pass this first stage of evaluation will be invited to participate in a brief (~45 min) meeting with one or more members of the Amazon Catalyst Evaluation Committee. During the meeting, you’ll have the opportunity to share your idea, and discuss the plan for carrying it out; you are welcome (and encouraged) to bring supporting materials that may help us understand your plan. Note that while the meeting is designed to be informal, it will be used in the evaluation, and so it should be taken seriously.
      3. Proposals that pass the second stage of evaluation will be sent to the Amazon Catalyst Evaluation Committee for review and a vote. If offered a grant through the Catalyst program, awardees will be required to execute certain documentation, including a Grant Agreement with the University of Washington, describing the grant and associated terms.
    2. How long will it take to hear back about my application?
      We’ll send you a confirmation email after submission, and will keep you periodically updated about the status of your application until a decision has been made. We’ll try to get back to you within a few weeks about whether you have been invited to a meeting. In an effort to move quickly to support good ideas, we aim to provide funding to successful proposals within 90 days of the quarterly evaluation deadline. That means that if you apply for a grant in November and are successful, you could receive funding as soon as January!
    3. Who sits on the evaluation committee?
      The Amazon Catalyst Evaluation Committee comprises members from Amazon and CoMotion at the University of Washington. Depending on the project, the evaluation process may involve bringing in additional experts affiliated with Amazon or UW.
    4. Can you tell me more about the in-person meeting?
      Basically, you meet with one or more members of the Amazon Catalyst Evaluation Committee informally and review your plans for the grant. We like to keep the nature of the meeting casual, but meeting you and/or the team (if you applied as a team) in person is part of the decision process so do take it seriously. If we schedule a meeting, you should plan to bring along any materials that would be necessary to help us understand the project. We estimate the meeting will last around 30 minutes. No need for a suit – this is the West Coast after all.
    5. If I’m passed over for a grant, will I receive any feedback on my application?
      Unfortunately we are not able to provide feedback on unsuccessful grants at this time, but rest assured, every application is read, reviewed and carefully considered. We know how much work goes into preparing them.
  5. About the Grant Award Period
    1. Ok, now I have an Amazon Catalyst grant. What do I have to do?
      Once awarded a grant, you are expected spend the time period of the grant working on the tasks proposed to test the proof-of-concept. You are not required to work full time on the project, but we do expect a high level of commitment. Periodically throughout the grant period and at the conclusion of the grant period, you will be expected to provide brief written reports to Amazon and CoMotion detailing your project and the progress achieved.
    2. Do I have to quit school, or go on leave?
      No. And by no means do we condone leaving or dropping out of school. Students that wish to continue to pursue their studies in concordance with the grant period will be allowed to do so. Faculty members that wish to continue as faculty may continue to pursue their work as well.
    3. What can the funding be used for?
      The funding can be used for any legal purpose required to carry out the objectives of the project. The funding can be used to buy equipment, to set up a website, to hire contractors, to rent space, etc. In this manner, the funding should be thought of as similar to seed capital in a startup company. In the application, we ask that you outline the key tasks of your project and how the Catalyst funding will be used to carry out those tasks. Having a well-thought-out plan for how the money will be spent will benefit your application considerably.
    4. I anticipate that I will need to use university resources to help advance my project. Is that okay?
      Yes, however, in that case you would need a faculty advisor to endorse you and serve as the fiscal agent.
  6. Getting in Touch
    1. Do you offer office hours or other ways to get in touch?
      Currently we are not offering specific office hours, but we accept one-on-one appointments on a case-by-case basis. Please send an email to Dr. Jeanette Ennis (comoazon@uw.edu) and specify the nature of what you would like to discuss.
    2. Whom do I contact if I have a question or suggestion about the application?
      Please reach out to the UW-based manager of the program, Dr. Jeanette Ennis (comoazon@uw.edu) and specify your question or suggestion.