By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Microsoft

Every year at the Imagine Cup, over 300,000 students from around the world come together to solve some of the world’s toughest problems using technology. The array of issues being addressed at the Imagine Cup each year is incredible, from helping students with visual impairments, to supporting refugees, reducing the impact of malaria and helping improve the response to humanitarian disasters. We’ve spent a lot of time in Microsoft thinking about how we can best help some of the teams take their ideas from the competition floor out to market where they can have a real positive impact.

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That’s the idea behind the Imagine Cup grants program, which was first announced at the Imagine Cup 2011 Worldwide finals in New York last July, and is designed to help students bring the benefits of their projects to the world. It’s a three year $3 million program that combines cash, software, consulting and other support, and winners will be announced in early 2012.

The grant process is competitive, and is open to Imagine Cup 2011 worldwide finalist teams. The program is specifically designed to help student teams build a business or nonprofit organization to bring the benefits of their solution to market. We will award up to three teams with grants.

All Imagine Cup 2011 worldwide finalist teams are eligible to apply for these grants starting today with their Imagine Cup 2011 projects.

All the applicants will be judged on four criteria:

1. Project impact and viability

2. Team quality and motivation

3. Solution design and innovation

4. Problem definition.

You can visit the Imagine Cup website to learn more about the Imagine Cup grant award, the criteria and judging process. The applications deadline is November 11, 2011, and the winners will be announced in early 2012.

In the meantime, we’ll keep you up to date on the program and will share the stories of how students are solving some of the world’s toughest problems.

Watch this space!