WARSAW, Poland – July 3, 2010 – It took them a year to get here, but the 400 students celebrating the start of the 2010 Imagine Cup World Finals didn’t show any signs of weariness.
Flags from Algeria to the Netherlands to Vietnam waved in the shadow of Poland’s Palace of Culture on Saturday, July 3, for the official opening of the Microsoft-sponsored student technology competition. Starting Sunday, the students will go into head-to-head competition, but for one night a sea of matching red Imagine Cup T-shirts emphasized what they all had in common.
“Each one of you represents the best of the best in the world,” said Jon Perera, Microsoft’s general manager of education strategy. “We at Microsoft look at you and see the future innovators of technology.”
Now in its eighth year, the Imagine Cup is the world’s premier student technology competition, Perera said. With 400 students from 70 countries in Warsaw, the competition has grown into a truly global event. To get here, finalists had to best their rivals in regional and national events around the world over the past few months. More than 325,000 high school, college, and university students in 113 countries and regions entered the competition.
The fact that the students made it to the final round already made them winners, said Jacek Murawski, general manager of Microsoft Poland. “It’s like each one of you had to defeat 1,000 students to get here,” he said. “So congratulations already.”
Murawski welcomed the students to his city at the start of the ceremony. He noted that the recent history of Poland and its transition out from under Soviet rule was an example of how passion, leadership, and technology could solve seemingly impossible problems.
Seemingly impossible problems are exactly what the Imagine Cup asks the students to solve.
Microsoft sponsors the Imagine Cup to encourage the world’s brightest students to use technology to solve the world’s toughest challenges, Perera said. “We believe that technology can, will, and must make an impact on the biggest problems in the world,” he said. “A lot of people will see great challenges and say, ‘Yeah, that’s a problem.’ We look at you as people who take action and say, ‘I can do something about that.’”
This year’s theme is “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems.” Students are creating technology solutions that combat diseases, improve education, ensure environmental sustainability, and reduce child mortality. The challenges are outlined by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The finalists will compete for cash and prizes in five different categories in a competition that wraps up July 8.
Over the week, students will have an opportunity to learn more of what Waldemar Pawlak, former prime minister of Poland, called “the country of Chopin, the country of great transformation, the country of Solidarity.”
Prior to the opening ceremony, students took a guided tour of the cobbled streets of Warsaw’s Old City district. Although most of Warsaw was leveled during World War II, it was rebuilt to look exactly like it did before. Some of the few buildings that survived the fighting still bear scars.
Students mingled as they explored the city. Team Quantum from Costa Rica talked time zones with Israel’s Team Help! Stephan Torres from Costa Rica said he looked forward to learning more about students from around the world. “It’s cool because we can all share about our countries and our lives,” he said. “We really don’t know about each other, but here we have an opportunity to change that.”
Francisco Jiménez, also from Team Quantum, said the Imagine Cup took him to Europe for the first time. He had always wanted to visit Poland, because of its history, and Germany, because he had spent six years studying the language. During a layover in Frankfurt, he finally got a chance to practice. “I tried to do everything in German to see if they could understand me,” he said. They could, he added.
Kalai Anand Ratnam, a coach of a team from Malaysia, took the city tour while he waited for his team to arrive. He said his team will be ready to present their project before the judges – even if they are tough. In May, they demonstrated their project on promoting healthy eating habits to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer when he was in Malaysia. Ballmer jokingly ribbed the team about the name – Project Apple. “We told him, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” Ratnam said.
Tsvetan Shoshkov from Bulgaria called the competition a good opportunity to meet fellow technologists from around the world. “It’s always nice to have new experiences, make new friends, and compete with the very best,” he said.
At the opening ceremony, Diogo Romero Burgos do Nascimento, a student from Brazil, said that he was competing in his fourth and final Imagine Cup. He said one of his favorite Imagine Cup experiences was meeting fellow students from around the world. He’s made friends and stays in touch with them through social media.
“It’s a competition, but I don’t call it a competition,” he said, taking a break from dancing to eclectic Polish rock band Zakopower. “It’s less competition, more integration.”