Good education is a critical component in enabling students to be successful in life and to make a notable difference in the world. When combined with opportunities to be creative, to exercise one’s intellect, and to instigate real change, there are few limits to what such students can achieve, to the challenges they can overcome, and to the dreams they can turn into working solutions.

This world of possibility is what makes me particularly proud of the Imagine Cup, Microsoft’s international student competition that identifies the next generation of innovators and assists them in addressing with technology the local and global issues of today and tomorrow .

Now in its 11th year, Imagine Cup saw more student involvement around the world than ever before, with a 70% increase in participation. The 87 teams who have advanced to this year's finals in St. Petersburg, Russia represent 71 countries, and their range of projects continues the Cup's tradition of inventive technology solutions that address real needs in the world. From fights against malaria to protection against bee extinction, from political activism to new ways of enjoying music, from augmented-reality gaming to diabetes education, this year's Imagine Cup finalists prove what small, intelligent, and agile teams can do with lofty goals, the right education, and the right technology.  It’s exciting to see the impressive ways these students are using Kinect, Windows, Windows Phone, and Windows Azure to power their creations.

A wide variety of educational, medical, entertainment, political, and other solutions will be on display at this year's finals, but you don’t have to be in Russia to experience them. I encourage you to visit the Imagine Cup site to explore the finalist teams and their solutions, as well as for daily coverage of the event beginning July 7. The awards ceremony will be live streamed starting at 1:30 p.m. GMT on July 11.

I look forward to watching the finals with all of you. Even for those of us who have worked on the Imagine Cup over the years, we're not done being surprised yet.

Namaste!

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