Guest post by Emily Byle, Microsoft Student Partner lead at Microsoft, UK
We arrived in sunny Seattle and it was time for a quick team picture before the competition briefing. Having all made it to the University of Washington campus, we heard from the Imagine Cup team as to what the next 2 days were going to consist of. They walked us through the new and improved tournament structure of the competition, designed to keep everyone on their toes and allow initially unsuccessful teams to come back in at different points. There are also a few subtle reminders that everyone is competing for a cool $100,000!
After a quick trip to Kerry Park to see the Seattle skyline, which caused a small crowd to gather, thanks to the rather impressive camera crew, everyone was off to practice their pitches ready for the following day.
It’s a very early start on Monday as the teams make their first trip over to the Microsoft Headquarters where the Imagine Cup is taking place. The first stage of the competition involves setting up a tradeshow style booth and demonstrating projects to three different judges, with backgrounds in predominately engineering roles at Microsoft. The teams are judged on their use of technology and then placed in the tournament groups accordingly.
From the 54 teams that started, there were now 32 competing in the next round. The second stage allowed competing teams to pitch their idea for 5 minutes to a new set of judges and the rest of the contestants. With just a handful of teams being announced at a time, we impatiently waited to hear who would be progressing at the 4 announcement points throughout the day. The judges then had 5 minutes to understand more about each team’s idea before deciding the 8 teams that would move to the next round of the competition. However, we would have to wait until the next day to find out who these lucky teams would be.
Another early start and overnight all teams had been finessing their 2-minute elevator pitch. This would be the ticket for 2 teams to re-enter the competition on a wildcard. However, we first had to learn who had made it into the 8 elite spots. Energy levels were high with everyone hoping they had made it. Once the announcements were made for the progressing teams, the teams had a final break to practice one last time. Then they were off. Whilst 2 minutes sounds like a short period of time, having a giant countdown clock behind each team must have made it feel like an eternity. Each team did a fantastic job of succinctly telling their story, with many projects demonstrating how they would be changing the lives of people around the world. Emotions were high and now the even more tense moment awaited. Each team now had the important job of choosing another one to vote into the final. Votes were cast, and numbers were counted. After hearing from Satya and how Microsoft is empowering young developers and start-ups, the announcements were made. The final 10 were now one step away from the Championships and a step closer to taking home the Imagine Cup.
After another exciting round, 10 became 4. The finalists competing in the Championship round were whisked away for specialist pitch training in preparation. Meanwhile, the other worldwide finalists took part in a Machine Learning challenge. This involved training a model to become accurate enough to make predictions about whether flights would be on time or not. This was a lot of fun, with prizes being given out to those teams able to make the model most accurate. The UK’s SEAT team from UCL won first prize and $300 each to spend in the Microsoft store… Not bad for a Tuesday afternoon!
Now it was time for the moment we had all been waiting for. Kimberly Bryant (founder of Black Girls Code), David Malan (Harvard University professor) and Mark Russinovich (Microsoft technical fellow and CTO for Azure) were all that stood between 4 teams and the Imagine Cup trophy. Macklemore even made an appearance to share his thoughts on the role of technology and the competition. After an intense hour of presenting and questions for the 4 finalist teams, we now had our Imagine Cup 2017 winners. X.GLU from the Czech Republic were crowned the 2017 Champions, with their novel hardware and software instruments to allow diabetic patients to cope with the disease better. X.GLU's application also adds gamification to diabetes testing for children, makes testing more fun and intuitive. For winning first place, X.GLU received $100,000 USD, $125,000 USD in Azure credits, a mentoring session with Satya Nadella, and a trip to the 2018 Microsoft Build conference!
Imagine Cup is over for another year, but it's not too early to start thinking about your application for the 2018 competition. If you have an idea for an exciting game, a project which could change lives, or even something that doesn’t yet exist in the market, we would love to see your entry in the Imagine Cup 2018. More details will be coming in the next few months, so register your interest here and get a head start on your entry.
A massive well done to the UK’s Worldwide Finalists: Donaco – Imperial College London, SEAT – University College London, KSF.LLC – Oxford University and Pocket Sized Hands – Abertay University! The competition was a fantastic experience and we can’t wait to see what you come up with next year.
Interested in entering the Imagine Cup see http://www.imaginecup.com