How to be successful in the Imagine Cup (Software Design) competition?

icpromo With the Imagine Cup 2008 worldwide final in Paris coming on the way…I’ve been asked a few times recently to give some advice about "How to be successful in the Imagine Cup (Software Design invitational) competition?".

I am happy to share here some Tips&Tricks that I consider helpful, given the experience I had as former worldwide winner in IC 2006 (India) and mentor of the Italian team in IC 2007 (Korea) :)

This list is not complete, and it doesn’t pretend to be any official sort of communication (that you find here instead). Feel free to add your feedbacks or comment to this post.

  1. Believe in your project. If you don’t like your idea, it will be tough to get other people to like it. You need to be passionate about what you have been hardly worked.
  2. Have fun. This is a corollarium from the previous tip. As long as you are having fun, you know you are going in the right direction.
  3. Release your potential. Imagine Cup is about innovation: try to go out from the common schemes…try to think out of the box. Your solution need to be realistic, but it doesn’t need to be 100% implemented during the competition. I know lot of students are often "scared" to do not meet the deadline because they think they can not build a IC project while attending university courses. Maybe someone could not agree with me on this, but in my opinion IC final applications are proof of concept (in an advanced state) of what your solution could look like in the future. Summarizing…if you demonstrate that it’s reasonably possible to build the real application within a 1-2 years timeframe, then you can concentrate on building just a (working!!) proof of concept for IC.
  4. Great Idea, Great Project, Great Presentation. Normally you would spend a considerable amount of time thinking about the right idea. Then you will go deep down in the development of your project; if you are developers, I’m sure you will still want to add a new great feature even 5 before the delivery of the solution. Fine…until you spend enough time on the presentation. If you are not able to present in an effective way your project, you might loose the judges consensus. I would suggest to spend at least one week on the presentation. To give you an idea, I spent 2 weeks preparing mine (slides, videos, audio, content, timing, demoing, doing rehearsals…). Moreover try your presentation at least a couple of time before going on stage, possibly presenting in front of different audience (technical, marketing, business, …)…and listen carefully to the feedbacks you will receive.
  5. Stay updated with all the latest Microsoft technologies. I’m sure you are all passionate and you read lots of blogs about alpha/beta/rc/… version of products coming out a few weeks before the final. Using those technologies in your project will be a competitive advantage against "older applications". Obviously this mean that you will need to work even harder (and possibly you will not find any support since the early stage of the build you are using). For this edition, you should try to use Silverlight or WPF or DeepZoom or all the new Live API or XNA or ASP.NET 3.5 or Mobile or….you have really a lot of fresh technologies to implement!
  6. Team working is essential. Each person in the team should have a defined role and he/she should be accountable for his/her specific area. It’s amazing to see the results a good team can bring when working together.
  7. Make a business plan. Having a business research of your project would be an added value to understand how your solution is going to impact the market. Study the market size, position, stakeholders, competitors,…. We live in a world with more that 6.6B individuals: it’s normally difficult (or impossible?) to be the only one in a market. You need to do research on potential business competitors, understand what make your solution different (and hopefully better), create a strategy, estimate costs…
  8. Backup plan: in the default scenario on the first day of the competition you are ready and prepared with your presentation. Your slides are done, your demo is working well, you’ve done the rehearsal of the presentation a few times…you are relaxed and comfortable. However…sometime you might have a last minute issue (the wireless is not working, the hw is broken, the batteries are down, your voice is down, one of the laptop didn’t reach the location, you are ill, the demo suddenly stop working, you have localization issues, …). [Note that I’ve seen all these at least once in the previous editions :)]. For this reason you should always have at least one back-up plan. Record a video of the demo, prepare different slides-deck, take screen-shoots, cache remote webservices or website on your machine, … I know you don’t have years to prepare your project before the IC final…but spending one night on a back-up plan is worth the pain, believe me. If then everything works fine (as I wish it will) you still have some resource to give away to journalists or partners 😉
  9. Networking: finally don’t forget that Imagine Cup is not just about you. It is about meeting the best team from around 60 countries in the world, Microsoft employees, subject matter experts, local MSPs. In such an amazing environment you can’t stop learning and making exclusive experiences! Of course you need to concentrate and be focused on your project…but networking with your “colleagues” is one of the experience you will never forget in your life. :)
  10. Use the available resources: visit the Imagine Cup website and Channel8 websites…they are THE place where you can get all the information you need about Imagine Cup (rules, guidelines, history, interviews to judges and winner, tips, news, …)

I hope this post will answer at least 1% of your questions. If you have any other question, feel free to post them in the official Imagine Cup forum…or if you have something specific for me, drop me an email at

Eventually I’m sure that my friends Guillaume (winner IC SD 2004) and Stan (winner IC SD 2005) will be happy to share even more advices.

Imagine Cup changed my life, I will remember this experience forever. I really wish you best luck, and I hope to see you in Paris in July or next year in… :)


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