I have been a part of the Imagine Cup since 2003 and every year, am delighted and surprised at how it gets better and better. 

This world-wide competition brings together students from all over the world and showcases young developers, designers and IT pros who are using technology as a vehicle for creating change.  The Imagine Cup provides a great opportunity for students to get familiar with professional-level developer tools and learn new technologies. Teams can compete in Software Design, Game Design, Digital Media, Embedded Development and Windows Phone 7 competitions thereby having a vast canvas from which to choose what technologies they want to use to solve problems that they are passionate about.

With a focus on demonstrating how technology can help address issues in education, healthcare and the environment, the competition generates an amazing number of interesting projects. For the Imagine Cup 2010, over 325,000 students stepped up to the challenge, with the top 400 ultimately making it to the Worldwide Finals in Warsaw, Poland last July.

Now, students are preparing for the Imagine Cup 2011 competition and I can't wait to see what they develop as they gear up for the first Worldwide Finals to take place in the United States - in New York City, July 8-13, 2011.

One of the aspects of the Imagine Cup that continues to impress me is the applicability of the students' projects.  With only the stipulation that their projects "help solve the world's toughest problems" and the recommendation to gain inspiration from the UN Millennium Development Goals, students' solutions have taken on a range of global issues.  

Something novel that students can leverage for inspiration for their project ideas is a new program called 'Imagine Cup Solve This'.  Organizations such as NetHope, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Programme on Youth (UNPY), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have submitted real problems that student teams can access, with a goal of developing an innovative solution that will help make a real and direct impact on society.  This is an exciting approach to problem-solving that brings together IGOs, NGOs, and non-profits, and provides a unique opportunity for students to learn new skills and gain experience while making a difference in the world.

I also want to point out that current university or high school students can download professional Microsoft developer, designer, and gaming software at no charge through DreamSpark. The program is available in 137 countries and regions and is a great resource for competitors.

If you are a student or know one, I strongly encourage you to step up to the challenge. You can learn more about the "Solve This" announcement or register at www.imaginecup.com.

Namaste!