Discussions about the future of cities tend to focus on huge systems –infrastructure, bureaucracy, the economy. Those things are important – but doesn’t it make more sense to focus on people first? That could mean empowering workers to do their jobs a bit better. It could mean empowering citizens to easily engage with local government services. Or it could mean empowering new ideas to thrive. Great works can come from such small beginnings.

Take apps, for example. A simple app can improve productivity, make communication easier or help keep a project on track. That’s why the brightest minds in tech are always keeping their ears to the ground for news of the next great app innovation. And Microsoft are no exception.

But instead of just scouring the web for news of the latest tech trends, the Microsoft BizSpark initiative is helping to discover them. Microsoft is a sponsor of the European App Cup, an annual challenge to highlight development of ground-breaking business- and consumer-focused applications. Because of Microsoft’s focus on empowering cities through the CityNext initiative, there are even categories aimed at empowering cities and engaging citizens.

More than 200 apps, developed by teams from across Europe, were initially considered for the competition. The pool was whittled down to just a few finalist apps per category. And now, at last, the winners have been crowned.  

You can read more about all the finalists on the App Cup page , but one of them is especially interesting to UK public sector workers. The Air Now app for Windows Phone offers citizens access to near real-time local air quality information. This app from Greek developer Plussapps uses Windows Azure to harness data from 33 European Environment Agency member states, including the UK, and puts it to work for the consumer. It’s a great example of how technology can turn abstract government data into a resource that can help people every day.

Learn more about the App Cup and about how Microsoft BizSpark is fuelling the next generation of technical innovations. Want to learn more about how cloud tools are helping local governments? Check out our free e-book, “Bringing UK government into the cloud.”