Many people know Microsoft as a world-leading global corporation. But at its heart, Microsoft is a student startup founded by a couple of passionate young innovators with an idea. Students are often vanguards for the future of technology – and with the right tools and support, they have the potential to create innovations that can redefine our lives. It’s in that spirit that Microsoft launched the Imagine Cup student technology competition in 2003.

Now in its eleventh year, the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals are underway this week in St. Petersburg, Russia. The finals event is the culmination of a year of hard work, with more than 300 students from 71 countries advancing to the finals from local, regional and online competitions. We are thrilled to see these student technologists and entrepreneurs take center stage as they demonstrate their amazing ideas brought to life through software.

Today’s students are digital natives who easily see beyond a single technology or app to envision how software, hardware and the cloud can work together in new and inventive ways. More than a third of this year’s Worldwide Finalists are using Windows, Windows Phone and Windows Azure together across platforms and devices. Following on the heels of Build, there are even more ways that developers can use an integrated devices and services platform across Windows.

I hope you’ll join us at 7:30 a.m. PT on Thursday, 11 July, at www.imaginecup.com to see the winners of this year’s competition announced by Matt Smith, of BBC’s Dr. Who, via live streaming.

We wish the best of luck to all competitors, and encourage students with the next big idea to go to www.dreamspark.com to download the tools to get started, and consider signing up to participate in the next Imagine Cup global competition!

This is an excerpt from a post by Steve Guggenheimer, Corporate Vice President of Developer Platform & Evangelism at Microsoft. The full story was originally published on The Official Microsoft Blog.