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Imagining A New World for CEE Start-ups And Beyond
By: Don Grantham, President, Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)
12 July 2013

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If the young entrepreneurs at this year’s worldwide finals of our annual Imagine Cup competition are anything to go by, the future is in good hands. We’ve held this competition for the past 11 years, watching thousands of students across the world compete at a national level for a chance to present their creative tech-based projects to industry mentors at the global finals.

As I saw this week in St. Petersburg, technology is very much ingrained in the everyday lives of the fresh talent emerging from schools and universities today. As a result, technology is fast becoming a tool that young people are using to shape the future. So while we may enjoy technology as an integral part of our services and solutions now, that’s nothing compared to what this forward-thinking next generation has in mind. 

The appetite to participate in the 2013 Imagine Cup translated into more national finals than ever before. In Russia alone preliminary rounds were held in 11 cities and almost 300 Russian projects were submitted in total. This year there was huge enthusiasm across the rest of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), with 21 teams from the region qualifying for this year’s finals. Students from Armenia, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and more made up nearly one quarter of the total number of the finalist teams. 

So what did these clever teams present in St. Petersburg? Well, typically more familiar with consumer technology solutions such as gaming consoles and smartphones, the students taking part are often applying technology in ways that will revolutionize future industries including healthcare, agriculture and even defense. 

Team DORA (Doctor’s Operational Research Assistant) from Slovenia, received the second place award in the Innovation category for their work to address an interesting challenge: how to help doctors view patient information while in the operating room. Leveraging Kinect technology, DORA is an interactive physician’s assistant enabling a unique presentation of patient information before and during surgical procedures, which indirectly affects environmental and economic aspects of healthcare. It enables innovative and pragmatic surgery planning and is a unique way of looking at how technology can improve the operating room.

One of the most exciting things about Imagine Cup is the momentum that the competition brings for the brightest young entrepreneurs, many of whom have gone on to create successful businesses from their ideas. Long after the Imagine Cup buzz has died down, Microsoft continues to work in partnership with promising entrepreneurs through programs like BizSpark, to help them evolve into the start-ups that will redefine the future. There are several CEE start-ups that have emerged from Imagine Cup competition in the last three years including; Kinect rehabilitating temporary disabilities through MIRA in Romania; mobile mapping GINA software from the Czech Republic supporting disaster-zone rescue teams; andEnableTalk, prototype gloves turning sign language into audio via Windows software from last year’s global winners from Ukraine.

It’s clear that Imagine Cup is a powerful incubator of ideas for new solutions, and young CEE talent is at the forefront of their creation. Every year, we learn so much from the bright young individuals taking part. This year’s finals, held in the heart of this region, were no exception. We have unleashed a whole new wave of future innovators on the world, and I look forward to seeing what they achieve. 

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