This July's Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in St. Petersburg, Russia, is shaping up to be our best event yet. I'm particularly pleased to introduce a new award we'll present to some of our very best Worldwide Finalist teams: the Mail.Ru Group Connected Planet Award.

Mail.Ru Group is a leading Internet company in the high-growth Russian-speaking Internet markets. They operate two of the three largest Russian-language online social networking sites (Odnoklassniki and Moi Mir (or "My World")),  the two largest Instant Messaging networks in Russia (Mail.Ru Agent and ICQ), Russia's leading email service and Russia's largest Internet portal Mail.ru, and Russia's largest online games platform. But besides just being a very successful company, Mail.Ru Group is also dedicated to investing in the Russian technology industry in general and particularly for students and startups.

They've created several projects to spur growth and knowledge in the Russian technology industry such as the Russian Code Cup, TechForum, and their mainstream project Technopark. They also support key industry events such as this year's Imagine Cup. The leadership at Mail.Ru Group believes these events are important for the industry and for the young people who are among its greatest innovators and its future. Through programs like these, Russian students get the opportunity to interact with industry experts and win grants for their projects' development.

For the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals, we collaborated with Mail.Ru Group to create the Mail.Ru Group Connected Planet Award. For this award, any Worldwide Finalist team heading to our event in Russia can apply if their project does something interesting or fun with internet communications and entertainment. We can't wait to see what great projects turn up in Russia and three teams are going to win: First place gets $10,000; second place gets $5,000; and third place gets $3,000.

I'd like to thank our friends at Mail.Ru Group for this generous and exciting award. And once our Worldwide Finalist teams are announced on May 15, 2013, we'll get our first look at the amazing ways students are exploring our connected planet.

John Scott Tynes
Imagine Cup Competition Manager
Microsoft Academic Programs