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Imagine Cup offers students a platform to solve world's problems

October 20, 2010

Being legally blind, David Hayden, now a computer science master's student, was having difficulty keeping up with taking notes in the fast-paced math classes two years ago. Little did he know that the innovative solution he created to resolve this problem would land him in Poland in 2010 for the world’s premiere student technology competition.

The competition, Imagine Cup, annually showcases the best and brightest of student entrepreneurs and innovators. Each year the worldwide finals are held in a different country. This coming year, July 8-13, the finals are in New York City, the first time the competition has culminated in the United States.

Put on by Microsoft, the competition has grown from a mere 1,000 students from 25 countries in 2003 to over 325,000 hailing from over 130 countries in 2010.

For Hayden, his development of Note-Taker, a project he worked on while volunteering at the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC), an ASU research lab, became an assistive technology for low-vision students to view the board and take notes with ease. In 2009, Hayden and his team received a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation that allowed them to further their work. Soon after, Hayden caught wind of the 2010 Imagine Cup and the competition category for Touch & Tablet Accessibility.

“Strikingly,” Hayden recalled, “the Note-Taker so closely fit the requirements that we all felt that the competition was tailored to our project. The rest is history.”

Hayden and his team went on to win 1st place in their category, taking home $8,000 and two top of the line tablet laptops.

It was not only a chance to meet with students from around the world, but the ability to network and shake hands with Microsoft employees about the merits of industry, research and engineering, he said.

Microsoft’s Director for technical student marketing, Ashwin Karuhatty, described Imagine Cup as a platform that enables students to use technology to solve the world’s toughest problems, what he calls the competition’s underlying theme.

The theme stems from a decision in 2006 that geared Imagine Cup to follow the guidelines of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a set of points and problems in the world such as achieving primary education for everyone or combating widespread disease.

“This is not just a competition for computer science students,” Karuhatty said. “It is a competition for anybody on campus to come in and take part in.”

The competition’s format is similar to the Olympics, Karuhatty said, where each country has a competition where the winners from each region move on to the finals. With the finals in the US this year, the chance for getting American universities involved has never been greater.

“This gives us a tremendous opportunity across colleges and campuses in the US to enable students to innovate entrepreneurship,” he said.

Imagine Cup offers categories in multiple areas, including software design, embedded development, game design, information technology challenge and digital media.

Separate awards, like the one Hayden won, are offered in specialty areas like Touch & Tablet Accessibility, Internet Explorer 8 and more.

Hayden spent the first few weeks of this semester speaking to classes about Imagine Cup and the opportunity it offers for student entrepreneurs.

Randy Guthrie, academic developer evangelist for Microsoft, has worked closely with ASU over the years to help bring students’ ideas to realization.

Guthrie said that ASU has at least four teams competing this year and that there is still room for applicants in the spring.

“Microsoft and ASU have a long history of working together in the education space,” he said. “If students are interested in participating they can certainly get a lot of support from Microsoft, they can contact me personally. It’s definitely not a ‘you’re on your own’ situation,’ it is a partnership with the campus that makes for a really rich experience.”

For more information visit or for information regarding the regional competition check out

Written by Kyle Patton, Office of University Initiatives