Imagine a World Where You Win a Free Trip to Australia

Randy Guthrie – Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelist

Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition is one of the world’s largest student technology competitions, and while the dust is still settling from last July’s record-breaking World Finals in New York, I am happy to announce that the 2012 United States Imagine Cup competition has started and is bigger and better than ever. In 2012 the US is hosting its own Software Design, Game Design, and IT Challenge competitions in Redmond, WA, and the World Finals will be held in Sydney, Australia.

The theme for the Imagine Cup is “Imagine a World Where Technology Helps Solve the World’s Toughest Problems”. What that means is that projects have to have some kind of philanthropic spin; including the games. Some of last year’s finalists developed solutions that helped partially-blind students take notes in class, screen blood samples for malaria using a mobile phone, and help students with asthma manage their symptoms by playing a video game that requires breathing through a special tube. Some projects were developed just for the competition and others were developed primarily for research or to fill a course requirement and then were entered as a secondary objective. Either way, a good idea and some dedication can lead to a life-changing experience and maybe a trip of a lifetime to Australia for the Imagine Cup World Finals!

Fall is the Secret

The United States runs two Imagine Cup competitions per year to better align with the academic calendar; one in the Fall and one in the Spring. The Fall competition historically has about the half as many competitors than the Spring competition, and finalists are chosen from both so there is a big advantage for competing in the Fall. Fall finalists are announced by the end of November, so teams that are selected in Fall get about 4 months to polish their projects. Spring winners are announced in March and will have less than 6 weeks to polish and complete their projects, so the advantages of competing in Fall are almost overwhelming if you can get your team formed and plans submitted by the Fall Round One deadline of October 14th. Teams that are not selected as finalists in the Fall are allowed (and encouraged) to keep working on their projects, incorporate judging feedback and resubmit them in the Spring.

The Competitions

Software Design – Round One Deliverables

  • Team Registration
  • Draft Business Plan
  • Due October 14th at 5pm

Game Design – Round One Deliverables

  • Team Registration
  • Draft Game Storyboard
  • Due October 14th at 5pm

IT Challenge – Round One

  • Pass quiz on website with score of 15 or higher
  • Due TBD

As you can see it is easy to get started. The good news is that Round One for Software Design and Game Design is a project milestone date and is not judged. You can literally form a team, write a storyboard or business plan draft and submit an entry in under an hour. Your Round One entry shows your intent and automatically advances your team to Round Two. For the IT Challenge, you can take the tests as often as you like; score above 15 and you automatically advance to the next round.

The Software Design and Game Design competitions are team competitions; students can form teams of up to four students plus a faculty mentor. The IT Challenge is an individual competition that aligns with Microsoft’s IT Certifications.

Software Design – Round Two Deliverables

  • Updated Business Plan
  • Beta Code
  • 3-5 minute video presentation (think infomercial)
  • Due November 14th at 5pm

Game Design – Round Two Deliverables

  • Playable game executable (at least one complete level)
  • Written game summary
  • Game instructions
  • 3-5 minute game demo video
  • Due November 14th at 5pm

IT Challenge – Round Two

  • Case Study
  • Due TBD

The Rewards

Ten Software Design, Twenty Game Design (ten in each category) and Ten IT Challenge Competitors will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Imagine Cup US finals in April 2012 at the Microsoft Redmond Campus. First, Second and Third place teams will receive cash prizes. The winner of the US Software Design competition also will represent the US at the Imagine Cup World Finals at Sydney, Australia in July 2012.

Imagine Cup competitors also get invaluable experience that is highly valued by recruiters. Many Imagine Cup competitors get interviews and job offers from Microsoft. Even if you don’t get selected as a finalist, you can add your experience to your resume and may qualify for honorable mention, which can add important differentiation to your resume.

Last year the first-place team in the Software Design category not only won individual cash prizes, but they also won a $25,000 prize for their mentor’s department. This year, we are expanding the departmental sponsor grant award to include both Software Design and Game Design winners.


Besides the resources listed on the Imagine Cup web page, your school may qualify for an on-campus Imagine Cup workshop. Microsoft has fielded a team of regional developer evangelists that can come to campus, explain the details of the competition, and walk interested students through the sign-up, brainstorming, team formation, and business plan/storyboard submission; from zero to Round One in less than two hours! Interested in using Windows 7, Kinect, or Windows 8? Your school may also qualify for a technical jump-start workshop to get you from plan to code as quickly as possible. For more information send an e-mail that includes your name, school, and competition you are interest in via: Imagine Cup Contact Link.



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