Celebrating MVPs in the Imagine Cup 2024
Published May 02 2024 07:30 PM 2,635 Views

The Imagine Cup is a global student competition for visionary entrepreneurs building with AI – and empowers this next generation to use Azure and AI services to solve some of the most challenging local, industry and global challenges. Every year, students from across the globe compete for the honour of taking home the Imagine Cup, along with a cash prize of USD100,000 and mentorship session with Microsoft Chairman & CEO, Satya Nadella.


This year, the competition has been more challenging and exciting than ever, with new technologies and solutions being showcased across the Microsoft ecosystem including projects using Azure OpenAI Service, Azure Computer Vision & Azure Machine Learning.


The MVP community rallied behind this hallmark initiative, with more than 200 Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) & Regional Directors (RDs) involved in this year’s Imagine Cup. The involvement ranges from judging various stages of the competition to mentoring the student teams of contestants.


The top three teams that emerged from the semifinals, in alphabetical order are:

  • FROM YOUR EYES (Turkey), who developed a wearable device that uses computer vision and natural language processing to assist people who are visually impaired in their daily activities.
  • JRE (United Kingdom), who designed a drone-based solution that uses computer vision and machine learning to monitor and optimize the environmental impact of mining operations.
  • PlanRoadmap (United States), who created a web application that uses natural language generation and semantic search to help project managers plan and execute their projects more efficiently and effectively.

These teams impressed the judges with their innovative use of AI, inclusivity for end-users and viability of their startup. But they did not achieve this alone. They had the invaluable support and guidance of their MVP mentors.


As part of the Imagine Cup 2024, each of the startups in the semifinals were assigned an MVP mentor, who volunteered their time and expertise to help the students refine their solutions, prepare their pitches, and overcome any technical or business challenges they faced.


We reached out to the mentors for the top three teams and asked them to share their experiences and insights from working with the Imagine Cup teams. Here are some of the highlights:




Catalin Gheorghiu, mentor of FROM YOUR EYES

Catalin Gheorghiu, an Internet of Things & Microsoft Azure MVP from Romania, is a mentor for FROM YOUR EYES. Catalin has been working with Microsoft technologies as a software architect and developer for more than 20 years. He is interested in AI, IoT, and cloud computing, and often gives talks at conferences and meetups.


What do you enjoy most about being a mentor?

I enjoy the flood of new ideas and the enthusiasm in solving problems using new technologies. It always gives me a “rejuvenation” of technical thinking and provokes me to learn more and reminds me that I need to continue to work to remain on the technological edge. I would say that I get a lot from mentoring and hope that the students would say the same. Thank you From Your Eyes!


As a mentor, what strategies did you employ to guide your team in overcoming the challenges of developing an AI-driven solution for visually impaired users?

As strategies go, my job was simple. When talking about AI today, Microsoft covers all the bases and is the place to go, the biggest issue is to pick the right service from this offering. The students knew the problem firsthand and did well technically, choosing the right services etc. What was missing was explaining to the world what they were using in their material. The project is a testament of the strength of Microsoft’s AI offerings, and how it can enable a company to deliver quickly and efficiently a great AI solution to the market.




Charley Hanania, mentor of JRE

Charley Hanania, a Data Platform MVP from Switzerland, who coached JRE. Charley is an expert in business applications and AI and has worked with Microsoft technologies for over 25 years. He is the Principal Consultant at QS2 AG, a company focused on data platform consulting and data-based application development.  He also speaks, writes, and mentors, helping startups and social entrepreneurs.


How did you become a mentor? What motivated you to take on this role?

The opportunity to mentor the student teams for the 2024 Imagine Cup presented itself in January, through one of the MVP newsletters and also via our Community Program Manager, Alice Piras. I’ve always been drawn to assisting students and young individuals, and mentoring both locally and globally has been a significant part of my community involvement over the years. I find the impact of these engagements to be extensive and enduring, influencing the paths and directions people choose to take in their lives. Even after many years, I continue to hear from those I’ve engaged with, keeping up with their journeys, triumphs, challenges, and future plans. It’s this ongoing connection that truly motivates me.


How did you help your team find inspiration for their project or what guidance did you provide for its evolution?

JRE already had a fantastic idea and concept!  Initially, I reviewed their technical architecture and assisted them in identifying services and technologies that would not only enhance their offering but also future-proof the design.


We aimed to synergize with the review panel by leveraging key technologies within the Microsoft product and service ecosystem that would better align with their development. Drawing from my extensive experience working with startups, I guided them on key pitch areas, asking pointed questions about the perceived benefits to society and the industry they were targeting. I also provided presentation tips and guidance.


Fortunately, my consulting work has given me some experience in the Heavy Metals and Mining Industries, so their concept was not entirely foreign to me. This familiarity helped me develop ideas around message clarity and direction, particularly in explaining the concepts and benefits to panelists who may not be familiar with the industry.




Marcin Policht, mentor of PlanRoadmap

Marcin Policht, a Security MVP from the US, is the mentor for PlanRoadmap. Marcin has over 15 years of experience with Microsoft technologies. He is a cloud and datacenter management expert who writes books and articles to help professionals and organizations use the cloud effectively.


Could you share your experience in helping your team leverage Azure AI services in their project?

One of my goals was to help the team fully understand the capabilities of Azure AI services and Azure OpenAI, so they take advantage of the capabilities they offer. This included considerations around data privacy, security, scalability, and cost optimization. They are quick learners, as the final outcome demonstrates.


What strategies do you use to guide your mentees towards their goals?

Review with the team competition guidelines and criteria to ensure that the solution aligns with the judging criteria, highlight the importance of addressing all aspects of the competition, including the technologies in scope, social impact, innovation, commercial viability, inclusivity, equality, and privacy protection.


Encourage the team to identify pressing social issues or challenges that their Azure AI solution can address, research and discuss potential problems in areas such as social justice and accessibility.


Emphasize the importance of ethical considerations in AI development, review principles such as fairness, transparency, accountability, and privacy protection.


Prioritize the needs and experiences of end-users, emphasize the importance of inclusivity and accessibility in design.


Ensure a sustainable business model, including market opportunities and potential partnerships, help think strategically about how to create value for customers while achieving social impact.


Offer technical guidance and support to effectively leverage Azure AI services and OpenAI technologies, assist in selecting the right tools and platforms, designing scalable architectures, and implementing robust solutions.


Help prepare for pitching the solution to judges and stakeholders, including effective communication of ideas, highlighting the social impact and commercial viability of the solution, and address potential questions or concerns.

Who will take home the Imagine Cup? Catch the Finals on May 21

We applaud the top three teams of the Imagine Cup 2024 and appreciate all the MVP judges and mentors for their incredible work and commitment over the contest. We are proud of the MVP community and the impact they have on the future of technology, social impact and young visionaries.


Catch the startup finalists live at Microsoft Build on May 21 to find out who wins the Imagine Cup 2024.



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