For the tech enthusiasts, developers and entrepreneurs out there, Microsoft is taking in applications for the 15th edition of the worldwide Imagine Cup competition, a students’ developer innovation competition that will bring teams from all corners of the world to fight it out for a combined cash prize of $ 100,000 in addition mentorship (the overall winner gets to have a mentorship session with Microsoft CEO Natya Nadella).
Over the years the competition has seen some amazing innovations, last year’s winner-team X.Glu from the Czech Republic invented a patented (yes you read that right patented!), cloud-connected glucose meter designed for children with diabetes. The team developed a smartphone application that uses gamification to make blood glucose testing fun for children and easy to monitor for parents and doctors alike.
2016’s winner was team ENTy from Romania who created a high-tech wearable device that tracks the balance of the internal ear and checks the spine posture in real time. The device is the size of a door key and is worn on the back or head and can detect inner ear problems and other data that can be useful to doctors in diagnosing patients. If you are participating now you know what you are up against, not that tough right?
To participate, students need to form or join a team of at most three people, who are enrolled students at an accredited university. Thereafter come up with an idea, design a working technology project and submit. All teams have to use Microsoft Azure (a collection of cloud services used to build, deploy, and manage applications) for the competition, you can either get Azure for Students or an Azure Free Account.
This year, apart from the overall award there will be extra awarding in the following areas.
- Artificial Intelligence – Best use of Azure Intelligence tools and APIs with the following technology: Azure Cognitive Services and Bot Services.
- Big Data – Best use of Azure Analytics tools and APIs with the following technology: Azure Machine Learning, Stream Analytics, and IoT.
- Mixed Reality – Best use of Windows Mixed Reality with the following technology: HoloLens, AR, and VR.
Entries for the Kenya competition started in March and are still ongoing; the regional winners will be announced on 26-27th April. They will go on to compete in the regional finals on 23rd May and finally, the world finalists will be announced on 1st June 2018. Apart from the world finals, all the regional competitions will be online based.
“The world is eager to address two powerful issues: education and jobs for the younger generation and technology. At Microsoft, we are focused on enabling every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. The Imagine Cup Competition is anchored on this mantra and we hope that through this initiative, we will empower more young people by enabling them to showcase what they have to offer to the world,” says Lilian Nganda, Communications Manager, Microsoft Sub-Sahara Africa.
How to increase your chances of winning the competition
A worldwide competition like this will take meticulous planning and deliberate effort, in order to stand a chance at winning. I have scoured the internet to find the tips and strategies that past winners and people experienced in the competitions have used before. I have also been a finalist in a similar international competition before, so within are a few tips thrown in from personal experience. Hopefully – if you are participating, this will give you an edge and help bring the 2018 Imagine Cup to Kenya for the first time.
- Build a Great Team
Picking a great team is important especially considering you will be working remotely, unsupervised and with strict deadlines, preferably pick someone you have worked with before who have shown commitment. Make the team diverse, have a core technology guy (a person who can code even with their eyes closed), a design guy (get a master of design to create an attractive user interface) and finally you need a business guy- let’s call him/her the salesman, they won’t even need to know how to code (find someone with a sharp tongue and a strong business acumen, they will come in handy in the later stages of the competition.) With this core team in place design, build and submit your idea.
- Test and Refine
Assuming you have made the cut and have been selected to continue to the regional finals, at this stage you need to test the project with real people. The work you put here will determine how successful you will be even when you face off teams from other countries. Whether you are building an app, game or hardware, get it in the hands of people, document or film them as they use they interact with the product (this will come in hand in your presentation if you get to the international finals)-your sharp-tongued salesman should be invaluable at this stage.
Use whatever feedback you get to optimise your project, fix bugs, improve the design, increase speed, tweak and tweak some more. Additionally, try and study what the other teams who also qualified are doing, do they have weaknesses that you can make your strength to differentiate your project? Start practising your presentation early enough, if you get selected to represent your country at the worldwide finals, you need to be prepared for pitching, here are some tips for pitching your idea the right way
- Presentation at the World Finals
If you have made it to this level, you should already be proud of yourself. The competition at this level is crazy high and teams have over the years built amazing things. However, all that early preparation will have made you a force to be reckoned with-a big force indeed. Additionally, If you have anything physical to bring to your presentation do so- it helps, include the video clips/feedback you took when testing your product with actual users (showing that your project solves real-world problems will set you apart-make it a priority).
Here are more tips to help you in a competition-Seedstars Startup Competition-6 lessons I learnt on pitching