Where are they now? Imagine Cup winners from around the world innovate with Microsoft technology

Dreams can become reality: That’s one of the biggest lessons previous Imagine Cup participants learned from their experience. Using Microsoft technology, many winners have continued to hone and revise the innovative work that earned them Imagine Cup honors, and have created opportunities to get their products to market.

Here’s an update on past winners, how their work is faring and the advice they have for students who will compete in this year’s Imagine Cup World Finals, a Microsoft YouthSpark program, July 29 – Aug. 2:

Ana Ferraz of Portugal, pictured above, who won the Imagine Cup World Citizenship Competition in 2013, is testing a prototype of her award-winning device, which can determine a person’s blood type in about five minutes.

The people she met and the connections she made at Imagine Cup helped provide her opportunities to seek financial resources as she continues her work, while she completes her Ph.D.

She has presented her prototype at conferences in several countries, and is hoping to launch it in the near future. The contacts she made at Imagine Cup with those from other countries and cultures were very helpful, she said in an email interview. “Talk with other teams, and try to know more about the other projects,” she said. The Imagine Cup is “a good opportunity to learn with others.”

Christian Brüggemann of Germany was part of Team Graphmasters, which won first place and $100,000 in the 2012 Microsoft Imagine Cup grants program.

His team’s vision, Nunav, was a navigation system that can reduce a car’s carbon dioxide emissions by using an efficient algorithm on the Windows Phone platform to route traffic. They’ve made it a reality.

Christian Brüggemann, Imagine Cup

Christian Brüggemann, far right, was part of Team Graphmasters, which won first place and $100,000 in the 2012 Microsoft Imagine Cup grants program.

Brüggemann’s company, Graphmasters, has grown from three to 13 employees, he said in an email interview, and is “officially partnering with Bosch in order to bring our product into the market.”

The most important thing he learned from his Imagine Cup experience was that “what started as a project, and evolved into a product, constantly changes. Whenever we thought that the purpose and feature set of the software was fixed, time proved us wrong.” Test, test and re-test. Innovate. Then do it all over again.

And some other good advice: Imagine Cup competitors, he said, also should come prepared “as much as possible” before arriving in Seattle. At the event, “you don’t want to spend time in the hotel, programming.”

While winning the Imagine Cup is the goal, “if for some reason, you are not able to be at your best on that day (of the competition), do make sure that you are taking full advantage of the Imagine Cup platform by exploring” other opportunities to meet and connect with others at the event, said Mrityunjay Bhadauria of India, a 2009 Imagine Cup competitor, in an email interview.

Doing those things aided Bhadauria in subsequent years with his entrepreneurial and innovative company, Edukinect. Based in India, Edukinect provides an educational service platform that so far has helped more than 20,000 students on 150 engineering campuses across India get technology training and become Microsoft-certified in various specialties.

“Make friends, talk to fellow participants, mentors and Microsoft employees, and see how you can improve your project” with their help, “collaborating and continuing even after the competition,” he said.

Henry Javier Paca Quinaluiza of Ecuador was part of Team Falcon Dev, which was a grant winner at the 2011 Imagine Cup. The team developed SkillBox, a solution that helps hearing-impaired children by translating audio from the teacher in the classroom into sign language. A wireless headset captures the sound, sends it to the computer, and then SkillBox shows the corresponding word or phrase.

“I think the most important thing is that we learned to never give up on our dreams and to believe in what we are doing,” he said in an email interview. “Sometimes the road gets really hard, and there are a lot of people who tell you that you can’t … You know what? Maybe they are good people concerned about you, but you always have to remember to believe in yourself.”

David Hayden, Imagine Cup

David Hayden has continued to innovate with his Imagine Cup award-winning Note-Taker device, which combines optical zoom and high-definition video to help users who have visual impairments.

Believing in himself, and working hard, were two things that have been key for David Hayden of the United States, who won second place in Software Design at the 2011 World Finals for his Note-Taker project.

The Arizona State University grad, who is legally blind, went on to earn his Ph.D. and launch Note-Taker, a device that combines optical zoom and high-definition video to help users who have visual impairments.

He created it, he writes on his company’s website, because “I realized that no existing assistive technologies allowed individuals with limited vision, like myself, to view presentations and take notes in the same amount of time, with the same ease, as our fully-sighted peers.”

“I will give the same advice to future Imagine Cup entrants that I have given in the past,” he told Wired in an interview. “Find something you’re passionate about. Find a real problem and interact with real people who are affected by that problem (ideally you’re among that population). Then work, work, work at the problem, discarding bad prototypes and designs with new ones until you find some traction. Then keep pushing.”

Joshua Okello of Uganda was part of Team Cipher256, an Imagine Cup 2012 grant winner for their work on a Windows Phone app WinSenga, which team members have turned into reality, even as they continue to refine it. The app helps health workers monitor expectant mothers who are vulnerable to life-threatening complications during their pregnancies.

Joshua Okello, Imagine Cup, Windows Phone, app, WinSenga

Joshua Okello, center, and TeamCipher256, an Imagine Cup grant winner for Windows Phone app WinSenga, which helps health workers monitor expectant mothers who are vulnerable to life-threatening complications during their pregnancies.

Okello and his team hope to launch WinSenga to market as part of Microsoft’s Innovation Center and Business Incubation Program.

Like many other Imagine Cup winners, Okello says innovation was also fostered by teamwork.

“The most important thing I learned, probably, was teamwork,” he said in an email interview about his Imagine Cup experience. “How to work as a team, win as a team and even fail as a team.”

His advice? “Believe. Being part of the competition is in itself a testament to the top-notch talent that you are; network (your NETWORK is your NET WORTH); and while doing all this, enjoy — have fun and create memorable experiences/lasting connections.”

Suzanne Choney
Microsoft News Center Staff