It was an honor to be one of the executive sponsors of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup USA  finals this week in Redmond.  Imagine Cup is the world’s premier competition for students who create potentially life-changing technology projects that range from tackling issues facing society today, such as health care and sustainability of resources, to creating entertaining and engaging games that also educate.  Microsoft started the program 10 years ago to inspire students to innovate and study technology, and we are pleased to have had more than 113,000 student registrants in this year’s US competition.

This year’s theme is “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the world’s toughest problems,”  and there were 78 students representing 21 college and university teams, and one team from Springbrook High School, who made it into the U.S. finals. The judging encompassed three categories: Software Design, which had 10 finalists; Game Design-Xbox, which had six competing teams; and Game Design-Phone, which also had six teams. The ultimate victor, however, was Arizona State University’s entry in Software Design, called FlashFood. It’s a real-time food recovery solution for families in need, which uses Web applications and smartphones to coordinate same-day food donation deliveries to families. It makes it possible to move perishable donations where they are needed -- fast.  So be sure to follow the “home team,” ASU’s Eric Lehnhardt, Jake Irvin, Katelyn Keberle and Steven Hernandez, who will be heading to the Worldwide Imagine Cup Finals this summer in Australia. 

Annual growth in the Imagine Cup has been tremendous. In 1993, the contest attracted 2,000 students from 25 countries, and in the last decade, more than 1.25 million students from 190 countries have participated.  Here are some fun facts about the U.S. competition:

  • Tackling the Toughest Problems: This year, projects addressing heath issues dominated the submissions (41%), followed by environmental (23%), and education (18%).
  • A Focus on Health: One half of the Software Design projects were focused on health topics such as SIDS, Tuberculosis, reducing obesity, and bringing medial solutions to developing countries.
  • Women Innovators: Imagine Cup’s popularity among female students is on the rise, as 41% of all teams included a female member.
  • Students Love Windows Phone: Seventy percent of Software Design teams used Windows Phone in their solutions.
  • To the Cloud: Sixty percent of Software Design projects were based on cloud services and technology, enabling uses such as tracking patient health data, and helping scientists make quicker decisions during emergency situations.

I was able to participate in the Solution Showcase on Monday, and found no shortage of extremely talented, enthusiastic students eager to share their ideas and work.  The event, was packed and you could feel the buzz and excitement! Microsoft employees, local high school STEM students, community members, family and friends were all invited to share in the fun.   I met with team LegenDairy, from Brigham Young University, which developed a solution for monitoring health conditions of livestock. One local team, University of Washington-Bothell’s KinectMath, demonstrated its interactive way to teach abstract math concepts. And I visited with the  team calling itself The Miracle Workers, from Winona State University, which developed a sleeping pad for infants that monitors hearbeat, breathing, and movements, and sends the data to a PC to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Finally, I want to call out the only high school team in the finals:  Digital Infinity of Springbrook High School, which created a game that uses sustainable energy sources to produce electricity for ravaged cities.  The projects were truly unique, inspirational and innovative and I’m so impressed by the passion and drive of these students!

I was pleased to meet three students who will be joining the Microsoft Academy for College Hires next year and several others who had interviewed for jobs at Microsoft while in Redmond for the competition. It was also great to meet several of the team mentors who have volunteered to coach and encourage the students in their projects.  The FlashFood mentor from ASU was very impressed with Imagine Cup and plans to encourage even more students to submit projects next year! 

What an inspiring event, and what a privilege to be part of it all...