I'm very proud to unveil two new opportunities for students to learn, compete, and win with Imagine Cup!

Today we are unveiling the Women's Empowerment Award in partnership with UN Women, the United Nations organization working to accelerate gender equality and the empowerment of women. Two student teams of any gender who create projects that best address issues that impact women globally will receive this award. The two teams will be selected from our Worldwide Finalist teams this July in St. Petersburg, Russia, and all teams chosen to compete at that event will be invited to apply. The first-place team will receive $12,000 and the second-place team will receive $8,000. This prize money is in addition to any other prizes these teams may receive at our Worldwide Finals event.

We are also unveiling the Women's Athletics App Challenge in partnership with the Seattle Storm women's basketball team. This is a new online challenge open to teams of female developers, innovators, and entrepreneurs around the world to create software related to sports, health or fitness. The deadline to sign up and upload your projects is June 14, 2013, so even if you aren't competing in Worldwide Finals in July you can still join this challenge! Each student in the winning team will receive $1,000 (US) and a trip to Seattle in August to visit Microsoft and see the Seattle Storm in action on the court.

Sounds pretty great? It gets better! This week we are also celebrating the Women's Hackathon 2013 on college campuses around the world February 22-24. The Hackathon is sponsored by Microsoft Research, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, the Association for Computing Machinery Committee on Women, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Women in Engineering, Microsoft Imagine Cup, and Skype. It's going to be a great event and I hope a lot of projects for the Women's Athletics App Challenge get off the ground during these events!

Female participation in the Imagine Cup continues to grow steadily. Last year, nearly 20 percent of students at the Worldwide Finals were females. One of Imagine Cup’s goals is to help participants build developer skillsets, learn how to launch startup businesses, and enhance their prototypes based on the advice of mentors and judges. Imagine Cup gives women an important platform to pursue interests and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)-related fields, and serves as a launch-pad to becoming developers, innovators, or entrepreneurs. 

At Imagine Cup, we want to see more female students competing to be the best and more opportunities for women everywhere to access and benefit from all the incredible technology that is changing our world every day.

Personally, this is an important goal for me to support. My mother was a trailblazer in this field, going to night school in the mid-1980s to become a programmer and she spent her career as a dev working in a variety of coding languages. Today I'm the father of a young girl and I want her to grow up in a world where women like my mother are no longer the exception but are instead the expectation.

If you're a student, please read more about the Women's Empowerment Award and the Women's Athletics App Challenge so you can get involved.

Technology is a door to opportunity and with your help, we'll open it wider than ever before.

John Scott Tynes
Imagine Cup Competition Manager
Microsoft Academic Programs