For the last 11 years, Microsoft has been running its worldwide Imagine Cup student software competition, and every year, it invites the best teams to the world finals. Last year’s event was in St. Petersburg, Russia, for example. This time around, the finals will take in Microsoft’s backyard in Seattle from July 29 to August 2 and the company today announced the 35 teams that have made it into the final round of the competition.
In addition, Microsoft announced that the finals judges will include Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, as well as Reddit General Manger Erik Martin and Code.org Co-founder Hadi Partovi.
In total, over 1.75 million students from more than 190 countries have now participated in the event, which has evolved over the years. Early iterations mostly focused on what Microsoft called the “World Citizenship” challenge, which asked students to write applications related to social good. But now the focus is more on innovation and entrepreneurship. Microsoft has also elevated the games competition quite a bit from earlier iterations and it now sits side-by-side with the innovation and world citizenship categories.
As Microsoft’s Imagine Cup lead John Scott Tynes told me this week, one of the major changes this year was the addition of a number of smaller challenges (with cash prizes) early on in the competition that were meant to help students refine the ideas for their projects. Students had to create a video pitch, for example, as well as develop a detailed blueprint for their applications and to create user interface mock-ups. The idea here was to get teams started down the path to the regional finals early, though there were no requirements for finalist teams to participate in any of the challenges. In the end, Scott Tynes tells me, almost half of the teams that made it into the semi-finals this year had participated in the earlier challenges, though.
As always, the finalists cover a wide array of topics. There are a number of hardware-centric groups, for example, that include a Japanese group that built a robotic teddy bear that is remote-controlled by a Kinect and a nail polish printer, for example, that was developed by a group of female students from Bahrain. Other projects include an anaemia-screening tool for use by anybody with a smartphone and an app that lets you snap pictures of your food and provides you with nutritional information about it.
Here is a full list of this year’s finalists:
As Scott Tynes also told me, this year’s winners won’t just get a $50,000 cash prize, but in addition, Microsoft will continue to work with these groups to help them develop their projects. The most innovative project, for example, will be automatically accepted into one of Microsoft Ventures’ accelerator programs. The winner of the games competition will be invited to the PAX Dev and PAX Prime events in Seattle to present the winning game, and the World Citizenship winner will get a return trip to Seattle, which will include help from Microsoft engineers and introductions to nonprofit organizations that can help further the project.