Irish Innovation Wins The Imagine Cup 2011

When you’re asked to judge six entries in a student technology competition it could be easy to not relate to the more than 350,000 first round entries from across the entire globe. Wait a few hours and throw in appearances by the Salesman Mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg and Eva Longoria and the cream of student technological innovation at an extravagant Awards finale and you really aren’t able to miss the big picture.

The Imagine Cup is Microsoft’s student competition encouraging innovation through technology  in order to solve the world’s toughest problems. This year following feedback from students themselves the Millennium Development Goals were offered as inspiration for the teams to focus their efforts on.

I’d agreed to take part in judging the finals in New York City and ended up seeing the Imagine Cup world the wrong way around. I arrived in to cast my eye on the best and then got to see the rest of the 400 invited students at the event Showcase at the Lincoln Center the following day.

I’ll always offer whatever time I can to support or encourage young people of every circumstance to strive to make an impact for a better world. It also usually a fantastic environment for perspective and inspiration. I recently participated in a very similar event as a judge for Societe Generale’s Citizen Act, but with more of an obvious financial focus. I will guarantee that a social impact leader will emerge from either if not both events, and most others like them.

The Imagine Cup 2011 goes to the winners in the Software Design category, my judging task, and was awarded to Team Hermes from Ireland (pictured right and in the video below) with their approach to improve road safety.

Regardless of the strict scoring criteria, how on earth can you rank the potential of social impact of such diverse projects? The technology may be similar but the scale and variety of impact vary immensely. Team One Buzz’s malaria eradication was incredibly appealing and reinforced by a very impressive presentation; Team Note Taker’s use of technology and the specific benefit to partially sighted students; Team OaSys’s clever adaptation of available tech (Wii remote) to help quadriplegic people access communications;  but Team Hermes was felt to be the most complete all round, especially against a back drop of rapidly accelerating global car use.

Each team may or may not push on to create successful businesses or products but the learning experiences gained by all will shape the future for many.

Microsoft also announced the launch of a new $3 million grant fund to further help the participants realise their goals. Ideas are great but it’s finance that helps all fledging businesses get their products to the audience they want to serve.


For a full list of the Imagine Cup 2011 winning Teams click here.

*One parting environmental (& visitor satisfaction) tip for the amazing city of New York – turn the bloody air conditioning down! I was frozen solid between judging  in one room at the Marriott Marquis and every other building I went in.

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