In Imagine Cup World Finals, Bahrain’s Butterfly team took judges on a fashion journey

Alaa Abdulraheem (L) and Marwa Buhaila of the Butterfly team (Photo credit: Joe Malinao / Filmateria)

Alaa Abdulraheem (L) and Marwa Buhaila of the Butterfly team (Photo credit: Joe Malinao / Filmateria)

It’s summer and that means it’s high season for pedis and manis. Would you like to stop searching for the perfect color?

The Imagine Cup World Finals’ two-woman Butterfly team had a definitive answer to that question: Yes. They created one-of-a-kind Nail Polish Mixer, a combination of a patented, Wi-Fi enabled device and a universal Windows app that delivers custom nail polish on-demand in 50 seconds.

The first day of the Imagine Cup World Finals presentations took place in Kane Hall, at the University of Washington, Wednesday. These 34 teams from as many countries and 125 students had traveled thousands of miles, worked for months on their projects (and pitches) and triumphed over others in their category for this moment in front of the judges. At stake is more than $1 million in travel, cash prizes, hands-on mentorship opportunities and a private audience with Microsoft Founder and Technology Advisor Bill Gates.

As their intro to the 15-minute presentation, Alaa Abdulraheem, 24, told the five Innovation category judges, “We will go on a journey to the fashion world. Welcome aboard.”

She and her project partner, Marwa Buhaila, 20, engaged the audience with a conversational style.

“I really, really love nail polish, but I have the same problem every time, I can’t find the specific color I want,” Buhaila said. “I’m spending lots of time and money. Do you agree with me?”

And affirmations throughout the crowd gave them the go-ahead on their premise.

“I have a sister, and one day I came home and saw her with 127 bottles of nail polish, searching for a specific color,” Abdulraheem said.

This problem prompted the two to find a solution and turn their senior project into a business.

“We built our dream,” Abdulraheem said.

The Butterfly team came with a PowerPoint deck and props: a PC-tower shaped machine decorated in the pastel colors of their team logo, loaded with containers of primary colors, and other models they’d also built from scratch.

The judges will come up with preliminary scores and feedback and teams will incorporate that into the second day of competition, Thursday, when they demo their projects during the hands-on judging round.

Nail Polish Mixer, Butterfly team (Photo credit: Joe Malinao / Filmateria)

Nail Polish Mixer, Butterfly team (Photo credit: Joe Malinao / Filmateria)

Butterfly walked judges through how a universal app (not yet published) would give users control on choosing a custom color based on swatches, top 10 choices or even by scanning an outfit and matching the color. The hardware, which comes with containers for five primary colors, then mixes the pigments and the finish and delivers just enough nail polish for a single application. Users can also choose from glitter, matte and glossy styles.

The app also aims to deliver sharing tools, as well as connections to local salons, e-magazines and ideas for different styles. The new technology in their machine, they explained, could also be applied to making custom juices, make-up and drawings. They called the machine their “baby,” having built it themselves at their homes.

Butterfly had to roll with the usual perils of a live demo – their machine was damaged en route to the competition and the video that showed the machine in action wasn’t working either.

They gave judges a rundown of their business plan. They’d applied for – and gotten – pre-seed capital and an incubator program. They’d gone to exhibitions, met with salon managers and conducted an online survey that showed 70 percent of participants in favor of such a device. They unveiled three models targeting consumers, mall traffic and salons. They also did a cost analysis and found their machine could produce nail polish at a savings of 79 percent on 83 bottles ($657).

Imagine Cup World Finals innovation judges, close-up of Bill Buxton, Microsoft Research (Photo credit: Joe Malinao / Filmateria)

Imagine Cup World Finals innovation judges, close-up of Bill Buxton, Microsoft Research (Photo credit: Joe Malinao / Filmateria)

When the judges had their turn at Q-and-A, they asked about color options, the progress of the app, what they were studying as students (computer and civil engineering) and the functionality and mass production of the machines.

They also had some comments for Butterfly.

“My daughter would love that,” said Rahul Sood, general manager of Microsoft Ventures. “Hardware is really hard. It’s quite impressive what you’ve built there.”

“Do you have plans to work with an industrial designer?” asked Bill Buxton, a principal researcher with Microsoft Research.

“We have marketing on social media, we are spreading our project,” said Abdulraheem. “In about five months, it’s going to be in the market.”

“You know, you could double your market if you could find a way to make it attractive to men,” joked Buxton. “It’s a machine, so it’s inherently attractive to us.”

Athima Chansanchai
Microsoft News Center Staff