On the final day of the Imagine Cup World Finals 2014 competition at the Washington State Convention Center, only one team emerged as the winner, but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told the 125 students and 34 teams who made it this far that everyone who’s a finalist should think of themselves as a winner – especially since the competition began with 33,000 students.
“It’s been an amazing week for us at Microsoft. We did our first company-wide hackathon this week and we had over 100,000 people participating. And then to have a chance on Friday to come here and spend time with student developers, I wish every week was like this where you just live amongst developers all the time,” said Nadella, who received a rock star welcome from the audience.
“We are the original student developer company and the original tools company,” he added.
Eyenaemia, a team of two medical students from Australia, took home $50,000 and the Imagine Cup Friday morning in front of 3,900 Microsoft’s global employees attending the TechReady19 event at the convention center. They’ll also sit down with Microsoft Founder and Technology Advisor Bill Gates for a private mentoring session and receive an invitation to work with Microsoft YouthSpark for a week. With Eyenaemia, Jennifer Tang and Jarrel Seah created a simple and non-invasive screening tool for anemia that analyzes and calculates the risk for conjunctiva through eye selfies.
The Aussies, who won first place in the World Citizenship category, were victorious over the other two first place winners in the Games and Innovation categories, Brainy Studio from Russia and Estimeet from New Zealand, who also won $50,000 each.
For the first time in Imagine Cup’s 12-year history, these three teams had to pass a gauntlet of questions given to them by Nadella, Hadi Partovi (co-founder of Code.org) and Erik Martin (general manager of Reddit) during a half-hour live session.
They each had 90 seconds to answer one question posed in three rounds: Dream it (describing the spark that led to the idea), Build it (explaining the technology behind the idea) and Live it (focusing on business and marketing plans and the notion that an invention is only useful if you can bring it to world).
“I like the way you thought about the world as developing and developed, and even thought about the business model for the two. Maybe you want to talk a little bit about insurance companies in the developed world and what they may do with your app,” Nadella asked Eyenaemia. “And then in the developing world, you talked about NGOs and other organizations. So tell me a little more about how you plan to go to market with these governmental or non-governmental organizations.
“So I have to admit that my experience with insurance companies is lacking. I come from Australia, and we live in a world of socialized medicine,” Seah said, to cheers and applause. “But to the best of my ability, I will answer your question. So we think that insurance companies can use this as a preventative health measure.”
Nadella, Partovi and Martin voted unanimously on Eyenaemia, though they seemed to enjoy answers from the other competitors.
Nadella asked Estimeet, “It’s an amazing app. I was just wondering, you have some inspirational stories to tell from your friends perhaps? Or what made you build this? Were your friends usually late to parties? Or what was it?”
“So there was this time we were meeting at the train station. And one of our friends said they would be right there in five minutes. And as you can imagine, we were still waiting there two hours later, Estimeet responded. “For the Imagine Cup, we had four members in our team. One of them would be constantly late to the meetings. And then, funnily enough, he wasn’t able to make it here today.”
For these finalists, who had worked for months (sometimes years) on their projects and pitches, Friday’s awards ceremony was the frosting on a fantastic week filled with presentations, mentoring and new friendships as they competed for $1 million in travel, cash prizes and that sit-down with Bill Gates.
They came into the packed exhibition hall at the convention center welcomed not only by the TechReady attendees, but also by the Husky marching band and their rousing rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
In the World Citizenship category, SMART crew from Taiwan won second place and held up a Taiwan banner as they accepted their $10,000 check in navy blazers and blue button-up shirts. Their tool gives stroke patients the tools to measure their progress through a wearable motion detector system. Access Earth from Ireland won third place and received $5,000 for their “TripAdvisor for the mobility impaired.”
In the Games category, announced by “Tetris” creator and Games judge Alexey Pajitnov, the BOMON team from South Korea won second place and $10,000 for their “Under Bed” game. Illogic from Egypt placed third and earned $5,000 for “Puppy in Bubble,” a mobile physics-based puzzle.
In addition to the awards, the event launched a new partnership with Code. Org and its “Hour of Code” program.
“One of the things we want to do over the next year is continue to grow the scale of the folks that participate in the Imagine Cup. Part of how we want to do that is we want to continue to scale not just universities around the world, but to a younger generation of developers,” said Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice-president and chief evangelist for Microsoft. “It turns out we have 7,000 Microsoft student partners around the globe who can take that program and take it to universities to high school, all around the world and get more and more students involved in coding.”
Guggenheimer also announced that next year’s Imagine Cup will again be in Seattle, which was a first for the Imagine Cup World Finals, which has previously been held in Egypt, Russia and New York.
Microsoft News Center Staff