A Conversation with the Imagine Cup Director
Published Jan 08 2024 09:30 AM 8,507 Views

As we enter into the new year, the countdown to join the 2024 Imagine Cup is on! The 2024 Imagine Cup is a global startup competition for visionary students building with AI. The experience empowers you to make a real-world impact through AI-driven entrepreneurship. It promises learning, innovation, mentorship, and a chance to showcase your startup on a global stage. 

The winner of the 2024 Imagine Cup will be crowned in May 2024 at Microsoft Build, offering global visibility and prizes for the top three teams – with the winning team taking home the grand prize of USD100,000 and a mentoring session with Microsoft Chairman and CEO, Satya Nadella. Plus, each of the two runners up teams gain USD50,000 and global visibility.  

There is still time to join! You can register here no later than January 24, 2024. Submit your proof of concept as soon as possible as the sooner you apply, the sooner you can access your benefits and start building as your MVP submission (due between Jan 26 and February 9).

As the Qualifying phase of the Imagine Cup hurtles toward its deadline, I sat down with the Imagine Cup Director, Tina Jones, to dive into the details and uncover what makes this global startup competition a must for students who are founders building with AI. Keep reading to get expert advice and the inside scoop on everything you need to know about Imagine Cup – from exciting benefits to essential deadlines. 

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Tina, first off, Happy New Year! Imagine Cup looks different this year. Tell us about the changes in the competition.

Tina: I am so excited about the new format of the Imagine Cup 2024 and the additional benefits it offers to students.  Firstly, it’s all about AI and we are providing AI learning resources and the opportunity to start building with Open AI, which in this pivotal time is so exciting!  We are also offering the chance for all qualifying student teams to enter Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub Level 1, which is an incredible first step for students who are looking to start their own business. I can speak more about how Imagine Cup participants gain access to Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub level 2 as well and all of the additional benefits they'll unlock there -- though I'm sure we'll get to that! 

Yes we certainly will dig into that on! To get started, why should students be excited about the Imagine Cup competition? What’s in it for them?

Tina: Well, Imagine Cup is like a startup bootcamp. It’s not just a contest; it's a journey. Participants get to dive into cutting-edge AI tech with a stack of Azure and OpenAI credits. Plus, there’s mentorship that goes beyond all of the tech stuff — Imagine Cup is about helping founders create a real business. And, I have to mention the chance to win USD100,000 and a mentoring session with Microsoft Chairman and CEO, Satya Nadella! Not only that, the two runner up teams also get USD50,000, so the top three World Championship teams all get significant cash prizing.

Wish I could compete! So, what are the stages in this adventure, and how can students jump in?

Tina: Picture the competition like four stages:

  • Stage one, Qualifying (Oct 16 - Jan 24): submit your innovative AI startup idea, and if you qualify, apply to Founders Hub so you can unlock the credits to start building. (Quick editor’s note to emphasize that in this first stage, you must 1) submit your application for Qualifying AND 2) register for Founders Hub).
  • Stage two, MVP Submissions (Jan 26 - Feb 9): get hands-on, turn those ideas into a prototype and you need to submit this between January 26 and February 9.
  • Stage three, Semifinals (Feb 23 - April 12): polish that business plan, connect with mentors, and level up with more Azure credits.
  • Finally, Stage four, World Championship (April 26 - Build): global stage, big prizes, and serious bragging rights. We’ve got a great visual from our last blog that you could include here.

The visual:


So, once a participant has been accepted to Qualifying, is there anything else they need to do to start building their MVP?

Tina: Yes! Once you are accepted in the Qualifying Stage you will receive an email with a guide on joining Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub. In the Imagine Cup, Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub is like the backstage pass to your startup journey. There, you get USD1,000 in Azure credits, USD2,500 in OpenAI credits, and access to self-paced training. It’s the toolkit you need to craft those AI-driven solutions. Remember, the earlier you get in, the more time you have to bring your vision to life. 


Could you elaborate on the features of each stage and the benefits students can unlock?

Tina: Certainly! In the Qualifying stage: early bird gets the worm. The sooner you get started the sooner you can access Founders Hub, with free resources to help build your MVP, from free credits to access the latest AI tools (including GPT-4!) to expert advisory and mentorship.


The MVP stage is a mandatory step to advance, shaping innovative ideas into tangible solutions. The Semifinals this year are going to be incredible – it will really help to propel student startups forward with experienced mentors and advice on architecture and go to market, plus - access to Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub Level 2, and an additional USD4,000 in Azure credits. The World Championship is the pinnacle, offering global visibility and prizes, including USD100,000 for the winning team, and USD50,000 to the two runners up. More details here and in the rules and regulations.


How does the Imagine Cup competition build students' entrepreneurial and technical skills?

Tina: Imagine Cup goes beyond technical guidance and provides a comprehensive entrepreneurial ecosystem. As I mentioned, participants in the Semifinals receive personalized one-to-one guidance from technical and business mentors, who are there to help the teams navigate the journey and challenges of entrepreneurship, to have a one-on-one relationship with mentors from Microsoft is so valuable! The competition also encourages participants to focus on responsible AI practices and principles (ensuring inclusivity and accessibility for all users), and promotes innovation, a clear target market, and a credible plan for bringing projects to market – all of these are things that participants can work on with their mentors.


What's the significance of participating in the Imagine Cup Cloud Skills Challenge, and how does it complement the competition?

Tina: The Imagine Cup Cloud Skills Challenge is an additional way to gain essential AI, tech, and entrepreneurial skills. The skills for Imagine Cup are not just about the competition – they’re skills that entrepreneurs will need for their entrepreneurial journey. Sharpening these skills early on prepares participants for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.


What are the crucial dates and deadlines participants should mark in their calendars?

Tina: The Qualifying stage runs from Oct 16 to Jan 24, 2024. The MVP Submissions stage is from Jan 26 to Feb 9. Semifinals run from Feb 23 to April 12, and the World Championship phase starts April 26 and culminates at Microsoft Build. The key date that students should keep in mind for now is the end of the Qualifying stage (January 24, 2024) – and remember, the earlier you submit to Qualifying, the sooner you gain access to credits for building your MVP!  More information in the rules and regulations as well. And everyone who registers for Imagine Cup gets access to the Discord community, where you can ask questions, find teammates, and just meet other like-minded student entrepreneurs from around the world.

Lastly, what’s your message to the student founders who are considering participating in the 2024 Imagine Cup?

Tina: My message would be that the Imagine Cup isn’t just a contest – it’s a community, a network of changemakers who are driving incredible impact through AI-driven entrepreneurship. We need innovation, perspective and fresh thinking from the next generation of entrepreneurs to drive change and impact lives. The startups from Imagine Cup over the years are beyond inspiring. Submit your startup idea by January 24, and let's create a brighter future together. Your startup success is our goal, and we're here to support you every step of the way. Good luck! 


Register for the 2024 Imagine Cup!


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