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Winning the Microsoft Imagine Cup

If you ever played with circuits or loved to build, the Microsoft Imagine Cup can be an amazing experience and way to truly demonstrate your interest and creativity in the world of engineering and technology.

At Lumiere, we host some of the brightest and most talented students in science and technology, and seek an outlet to demonstrate to their mentors, parents, colleges, and the world, their talent and prowess. If you are an aspiring engineer, computer scientist, or are just interested in this competition, here is a guide to show you how to succeed while competing in the Microsoft Imagine Cup.

What is Microsoft Imagine Cup?

This annual competition is open to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students, who form teams and participate to create a project that represents “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems.” The competition offers an opportunity for students to develop solutions that address real-world challenges.

The Microsoft Imagine Cup represents a celebration of the potential of technology to transform the world and improve people's lives. The competition encourages students to think critically, collaborate, and use their skills and knowledge to create solutions that tackle some of the most pressing problems facing society today.

The competition was launched in 2003 as a way to encourage students to use technology to create solutions that address social and environmental challenges. Since then, the competition has grown into a global event, attracting thousands of participants from more than 150 countries. The “Olympics of Technology” has become a global symbol of innovation, creativity, and collaboration, and continues to inspire students globally to use technology to make a positive impact on society.

Who is Eligible to Participate in the Microsoft Imagine Cup?

In summary, if you are at least 16 years old, a high school, college, or graduate student, and not affiliated with Microsoft, you are allowed to participate!

However, even if you are eligible to participate, should you participate? If you are a student who is: passionate about technology, innovation, and creativity, interested in using technology to tackle real-world challenges, or looking for a way to make a positive impact on society and contribute to a better future, then you should definitely consider participating.

In short, the Microsoft Imagine Cup is a great opportunity for students who are excited about technology and want to use it to create solutions that make a difference in the world. If you are, it is as simple as that.

Is Microsoft Imagine Cup Prestigious?

There are many prizes to winning the Microsoft Imagine Cup. From cold-hard cash from $15,000 to $5,000 or even $100,000 in the Imagine Cup World Championship, to mentoring and networking opportunities from industry leaders and professions, to having your product on a global showcase for potential investors and customers, to just having a community of like-minded individuals who are all devoted to the cause of engineering and technology for social good.

The Microsoft Imagine Cup is a world-renowned, backed by one of the largest tech giants in the world, where winners and non-winners alike get connected to their ideal clients, allowing their product to be improved or used in real time. The answer is yes, this is a very prestigious award.

What to Expect as a High School Student?

In a competition where two million high schoolers, college students, and graduate students are all competing for limited spots, it may seem daunting as a young student vying for their spot. However, every single year, more and more high schoolers compete, and prove themselves in the field. Regardless of your success in the competition, the personal drive to see a social issue, come up with an innovative and technological solution, and build a prototype can show colleges and future careers your worth as a young engineer, creative thinker, and game changer. Thus, it can be a rewarding experience nonetheless.

Timeline and Structure of the Microsoft Imagine Cup

The Microsoft Imagine Cup consists of several stages that teams must complete in order to reach the final round of the competition. Here's an overview of the typical structure of the competition:

  1. Registration: Teams must register online and provide information about their project and team members. Registration should be done by early December to get the full amount of time allotted for this stage.

  2. Online Semifinals: Teams submit their project proposals, which are reviewed by a panel of judges. The top teams in each category are selected to move on to the next round. In this stage, you must submit a project title, description, and proposal document, computer software and an outline to use the software, and a presentation video that is no longer than three minutes. This stage begins in early December and the deadline in late January.

  3. Regional Finals: The top teams from each region (North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Asia) compete in regional finals. The winners of the regional finals in each category move on to the World Championship. This happens in March.

  4. World Championship: The top teams from each category compete in the World Championship, which is held at the Microsoft headquarters. The World Championship includes a pitch competition, a demo day, and a celebration event. This occurs in May.

  5. Awards Ceremony: The competition culminates in an awards ceremony, where the winners in each category are announced and prizes are awarded.

Optionally, teams can participate in the Epic Challenge, which occurs before Online Semifinals begin. The Epic Challenge provides a chance for the team at the Cup to support your team by providing feedback on your project proposal and pitch, and before your team needs to have a functional product. The Epic Challenge will occur from the beginning of October to the end of November.

Tips to Win the Microsoft Imagine Cup

Winning the Microsoft Imagine Cup will be an incredible feat for anyone in the world, but here are some tips on how to increase your chances of winning the competition:

  1. Address a real-world problem: Your project should aim to address a real-world problem, and the solution should be innovative, creative, and feasible. Consider the impact your project could have on society and the environment. Consider a real-world problem that could be considered “trendy.” For example, climate technology, wearable smart technology, and artificial intelligence systems are extremely popular in the eyes of the public, including your judges. While you should cater your product around your team’s strengths and expertise, consider how you could use your strength and expertise towards a popular issue.

  2. Use technology effectively: Your project should make effective use of technology to solve the problem you are addressing. Make sure you have a strong technical foundation and a deep understanding of the tools and resources available to you. The Microsoft Imagine Cup requires you to use Microsoft Azure, therefore, you must be familiar.

  3. Create a polished pitch: Your pitch should be clear, concise, and engaging. It should effectively communicate the problem you are addressing, the solution you are proposing, and the impact your project could have. Practice your pitch in front of others and get feedback to improve your presentation skills. Watch online business professionals present an elevator pitch of their entire multibillion dollar company in just a few minutes. Study how they are able to use every single second and word to extract money out of investors and attention from the consumer – you should be aiming to do the same. With a global audience and a limited number of judges, you should make sure the judges are intrigued by your product. You could have the most interesting and world-changing technology in your hands, but with the wrong presentation, you could throw away your chances of winning out.

  4. Work as a team: The Microsoft Imagine Cup is a team competition, and it's important to work effectively with your team members. Make sure everyone has clear roles and responsibilities, communicate regularly, and collaborate to achieve your goals. Understand that everyone will have many different strengths and weaknesses, but at the end of the day, everyone is on that team for a reason. Make sure that if one person is better at the business pitch, the other is better at computer science, while the last is best at engineering a final product, that everyone is working where they are strong, and others are able to cover for their weakness.

  5. Pay attention to the competition rules: Make sure you understand the competition rules and requirements and follow them carefully. This includes deadlines, submission requirements, and eligibility criteria. If you don’t submit, you will not have a chance at winning. The competition rules also do not state that your team needed to have been working on this project for a limited time. Take your time with your product and only pitch when you are ready and still eligible.

  6. Leverage Microsoft resources: Take advantage of the resources and support provided by Microsoft, including Azure credits, technical support, and mentorship. Attend workshops and webinars, connect with other participants, and learn from experts in the field.

Microsoft Imagine Cup Winners

As we have implied through the rest of the article, winning the Microsoft Imagine Cup is a more-than-impressive feat. Here are a couple past winners.

  1. Team smartARM: This team from Canada won the 2018 Imagine Cup World Championship. They developed a robotic prosthetic hand that can be controlled using a smartphone app and machine learning algorithms. The founders are two students from University of Ontario and University of Toronto, studying mechanical engineering and computer science. The team was motivated by making a cheap solution to an expensive problem and came with a $100 prosthetic! A great piece of advice they gave was to “sense up the competition,” the sense that there are many unmet needs in the world and how you as an individual can get to serving their needs. Here is an article that talks about their win.

  2. Team Eyenaemia: This team from Australia won the 2014 Imagine Cup World Championship. They created a mobile app that uses a smartphone camera to detect anemia in patients by analyzing the color of their inner eyelids. The winners are two college students from Melbourne’s Monash University, and while visiting rural Victoria, saw a need in the world for an easy way to detect a life-threatening condition. Here’s an interview with the team.

A common theme we can see here is technology that involves some form of smart technology, artificial intelligence, and ease of usage to alleviate some sort of struggle for many people. Keep this in mind when deciding what you want to pursue.

Resources for the Microsoft Imagine Cup

There are many free sources to help one prepare for the Microsoft Imagine Cup. Microsoft themselves provides a multitude of resources for you to use to prepare yourself: Microsoft Learn, Azure credits, online webinars, mentors, a community Discord, starter kits, and an integrated developer network. All of these resources are freely available to aid you in kickstarting your project towards the right direction. Additional resources include watching previous year pitches on Youtube that have won or progressed far in the competition, watching business pitches as mentioned before, and reading the multitude of articles about previous winners and their stories. All of these are sure to help you towards that prize.

If you're looking for a real-world internship that can help boost your resume while applying to college, we recommend Ladder Internships!

Ladder Internships is a selective program equipping students with virtual internship experiences at startups and nonprofits around the world! 

The startups range across a variety of industries, and each student can select which field they would most love to deep dive into. This is also a great opportunity for students to explore areas they think they might be interested in, and better understand professional career opportunities in those areas.

The startups are based all across the world, with the majority being in the United States, Asia and then Europe and the UK. 

The fields include technology, machine learning and AI, finance, environmental science and sustainability, business and marketing, healthcare and medicine, media and journalism and more.

You can explore all the options here on their application form. As part of their internship, each student will work on a real-world project that is of genuine need to the startup they are working with, and present their work at the end of their internship. In addition to working closely with their manager from the startup, each intern will also work with a Ladder Coach throughout their internship - the Ladder Coach serves as a second mentor and a sounding board, guiding you through the internship and helping you navigate the startup environment. 

Cost: $1490 (Financial Aid Available)

Location:  Remote! You can work from anywhere in the world.

Application deadline: April 16 and May 14

Program dates: 8 weeks, June to August

Eligibility: Students who can work for 10-20 hours/week, for 8-12 weeks. Open to high school students, undergraduates and gap year students!

Additionally, you can also work on independent research in AI, through Veritas AI's Fellowship Program!

Veritas AI focuses on providing high school students who are passionate about the field of AI a suitable environment to explore their interests. The programs include collaborative learning, project development, and 1-on-1 mentorship. 

These programs are designed and run by Harvard graduate students and alumni and you can expect a great, fulfilling educational experience. Students are expected to have a basic understanding of Python or are recommended to complete the AI scholars program before pursuing the fellowship. 

The AI Fellowship program will have students pursue their own independent AI research project. Students work on their own individual research projects over a period of 12-15 weeks and can opt to combine AI with any other field of interest. In the past, students have worked on research papers in the field of AI & medicine, AI & finance, AI & environmental science, AI & education, and more! You can find examples of previous projects here

Location: Virtual


  • $1,790 for the 10-week AI Scholars program

  • $4,900 for the 12-15 week AI Fellowship 

  • $4,700 for both

  • Need-based financial aid is available. You can apply here

Application deadline: On a rolling basis. Applications for fall cohort have closed September 3, 2023. 

Program dates: Various according to the cohort

Program selectivity: Moderately selective

Eligibility: Ambitious high school students located anywhere in the world. AI Fellowship applicants should either have completed the AI Scholars program or exhibit past experience with AI concepts or Python.

Application Requirements: Online application form, answers to a few questions pertaining to the students background & coding experience, math courses, and areas of interest. 

Want extra support? Check out the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for a mentor to participate in a science competition like Microsoft Imagine Cup or want to build your own independent research paper, then consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program. Last year over 2100 students applied for about 500 spots in the program. You can find the application form here.

Aaron Zheng is a sophomore at Harvard University, studying Bioengineering. He is passionate about biotechnology, business development, and aiding students get to college, regardless of background. In his spare time, he looks to read, journal, and explore the world.

Image source: Microsoft Imagine Cup


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