Microsoft Revamps Imagine Cup, Adds Worldwide Semifinals And New Challenges

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Microsoft’s Imagine Cup is one of the world’s largest software development competitions aimed at students. Since its launch 11 years ago, more than 1.7 million students have participated in it in some form and this year, there are $1 million in prizes up for grabs. In an effort to make the competition closer aligned to what students need to know to get jobs later on (or start their own companies), the company today announced a number to the competition.

Until now, for example, the competition’s national finals were the only stepping stone to the global finals. A country’s Microsoft subsidiary would pick the winning teams in one of the three main competitions (games, innovation and world citizenship) and they would go on to the finals. Now, the team is moving away from this Olympics-style model and has added an online semifinal where the entries from 200 teams will be scrutinized by a group of judges from around the world.

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As John Scott Tynes, Microsoft’s Competition Manager, told me earlier this week, one of the reasons for adding these semifinals is to scale up the number of students the competition can reach and give feedback to.

One of the complaints the company had received about earlier versions of Imagine Cup was that students were often left without feedback in the earlier stages of the competition. So besides adding the semifinals, the team also added a series of challenges that focus on the software development lifecycle, starting with a pitch competition and a challenge that asks students to think deeper about use cases, their potential users and business plans. In January, the team will also launch a user experience challenge. Students don’t have to compete in these to compete in the main Imagine Cup event, but they are designed to get them on the right track early on (and to raise the quality of the submissions).

For the last three years, Microsoft has also offered grants ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 to the finalist teams it thinks have a shot at creating a startup. The company announced this year’s winners today. A $100,000 grant went to a team from Taiwan that is building a mobile phone app for those who are hearing impaired and $50,000 grants went to teams from Australia, Ireland and Slovenia. The grant program is scheduled to run out this year, but Microsoft hasn’t announced whether it plans to renew it.

Image credit: Microsoft