The finals of the prestigious Imagine Cup – the largest startup competition for students, will take place on April 26th and 27th. Students of information sciences at the University of Białystok and Białystok University of Technology have already taken part in this competition many times, and those with greater experience have also served as mentors and jury members in the competition. Their recollections just show how needed Microsoft‘s initiative is in the IT industry.
Microsoft’s Imagine Cup has been organised since 2003 and has earned the renown of one of the most important competitions in IT. In this competition, participants can present their innovative projects to a wide audience. Projects from four main categories are accepted: games, innovative projects, social projects and Smart City projects – those that can contribute to the growth of cities and the local economy.
The young inventors are competing for mentoring by specialists from the given fields as well as for funding for the execution and development of their projects. Polish representations have been active in this undertaking almost from the start, and have won various awards and distinctions several times.
What matters in the competition
We asked programmers from SoftwareHut about their experiences in Imagine Cup. Their answers to the question of what is most important when preparing for the competition were similar – the idea, the execution, and the presentation.
Marcin Bartoszuk, a four-time finalist of the national stage of Imagine Cup and later a mentor and jury member of the competition: The idea is definitely one of the most important factors. But as we all know, a good idea isn’t everything. Good execution also matters; creating a project that can convince the jury, and in the future, customers who would be interested in buying such a product.
Arkadiusz Kondratiuk, four-time finalist of the national stage of Imagine Cup: Even a perfectly made application has no chance in this competition if the idea doesn’t have that special “something”. For example, a project involving a book library would not win Imagine Cup. “Imagine” means something.
Mariusz Dobrowolski: Imagine Cup is undoubtedly a technological competition, but the business aspect is still important. This is why you have to both prepare the project itself, whether it be a system or application, and take a hard look at the business plan. For several years now, Microsoft is making it possible for teams qualified for the first stage to participate in professional training concerning presentation and business. And it is worth taking them up on the offer because even the best idea won’t be interesting if it isn’t presented properly.
Completely new possibilities
All participants in the competition, including those who didn’t get very far, emphasise that they have achieved real career benefits thanks to taking up Microsoft’s challenge and just participating in the competition.
Arkadiusz Kondratiuk: If I hadn’t taken part in Imagine Cup, I would never have made the business contacts I currently have or started my company. This competition is simply another occasion for dynamic career development.
Mariusz Dobrowolski: Besides being great fun and letting you make more acquaintances and great memories, it may turn out that the project will become something more, and friends from the same team will become co-owners of a single company. It’s worth making an effort for such opportunities.
Kamil Mijacz: Microsoft’s competition, for me, proved to be an opportunity to expand business contacts as well as to meet the competition on the market. By participating in this event, I was also able to learn how to present my products and conduct presentations, which is important.
Advice for future participants
All of the interviewees agree that their participation in Imagine Cup was a special and valuable experience for them. They have some advice to other competitors eager to test their skills in the eliminations.
Mariusz Dobrowolski talks about how important team composition is on the road to success: I have seen many cases where the competition ended pretty quickly for some because there was no chemistry between team members. It is important for the team to have the right skills but still more important for the members to want to work with one another and communicate effectively. A good atmosphere is an important factor in working together.
From the perspective of a jury member in the competition, Marcin Bartoszuk gives advice on how to build a team that can present itself well: A team needs a leader who will be able to support all team members. The mentor often performs this role. Because this competition is about innovation and technology, teams should be made up of people who think outside the box and have a certain technical background.
It’s not about being the alpha and omega in a specific technology because this competition is also an excellent occasion to broaden one’s technological knowledge. Also, every team should have a good interface designer, who will be able to create a graphical layout that will be appealing to the product’s target users. Of course, a person who can present and sell the product is also needed.
Arkadiusz Kondratiuk says that it is good to take advantage of Microsoft’s support in the competition: It is worth taking everything Microsoft offers as support before the finals. I’m not only talking about training, but also advice and suggestions from jury members and organisers. This gives benefits in the future.
SoftwareHut, the largest software house in Białystok, is a sponsor of this year’s edition of Imagine Cup – As a company, we bet on people who still want to grow and share their achievements with others. We are very pleased to say that people who took part in Microsoft’s competition are currently part of our team. Supporting Microsoft’s Imagine Cup benefits the entire industry, so we are happy to be a sponsor – says Robert Strzelecki, CEO of SoftwareHut.
Mateusz Andrzejewski, shareholder and board member at SoftwareHut, a competitor in multiple Imagine Cups as a student: Petros Psyllos – a graduate of the Białystok University of Technology, undoubtedly achieved the greatest success in the history of Białystok. In 2016, he was the laureate of the national stage and a finalist in the central stage of Imagine Cup in Seattle, thanks to his design of an artificial eye for the blind. I am interested to see what genius this year’s edition of the competition, sponsored by SoftwareHut, will reveal.
Openness to new challenges, exchanging experience and propagating knowledge should be the main goals of the new technologies industry in these times. This is the foundation of continuous growth. SoftwareHut understands these aspirations, which is why it actively supports initiatives like Imagine Cup.