Tapping start-ups early through multiple platforms

Microsoft runs the Imagine Cup, the world’s student technology competition. This year, a Malaysian team topped the Asia-Pacific rounds


Start-up companies and lone-ranger innovators are able to punch above their weight, thanks to the ever-deepening connectivity the world has today.

They matter so much that large corporations like US-based Microsoft Corp and Japan-based SoftBank Group Corp actively court them in any which way that works.

“Start-ups have grown in significance. We have teams of people that are engaging with start-ups. One strategy is to really think what is going to happen in the next two, three, five years,” Microsoft Asia-Pacific developer experience lead Dave Miller said at a press briefing in Kuala Lumpur recently.

For Microsoft, one of the platforms to engage brilliant, young minds at the very early stage is through the Imagine Cup.

Held annually since 2003, the Microsoft Imagine Cup is badged as the world’s student technology competition.

The global competition intends to empower the next generation of students to team up and use their creativity, passion and knowledge of technology to create applications that shape how we live, work and play.

“Such games are a good pressure cooker to help students learn. They undergo an amazing learning curve,” Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC) told The Malaysian Reserve.

MDEC partnered Microsoft for the Imagine Cup Asia Pacific Finals held in Kuala Lumpur on April 4, in which a Malaysian team emerged as the champion, securing a trip to the finals in Seattle, US, in July.

Aside from annual competitions like the Imagine Cup, corporations the world over deploy other creative ways to get the entrepreneur juices flowing.

At SoftBank, for example, they had recently concluded the Smartphone Junior High School campaign. They incorporated the traditional katana swordfight with a jet pack. The video has reached over 11 million views over the last week locally in Japan, according to a statement from the company.

The SoftBank Smartphone Junior High School is the firm’s latest online content campaign to encourage students to learn from different fields outside of school.

The concept is to create an interesting and educational platform for young people on their own smartphones.

Imagine Cup

Team PINE from Malaysia won the Asia-Pacific finals for the Imagine Cup, overcoming stiff challenges from 14 other teams from across the region.

The team developed a handheld sensing device that can help pineapple farmers efficiently and effectively evaluate optimal levels of ripeness prior to harvest, and in a non-intrusive manner.

Team PINE member Tan Yit Peng said a conventional method is currently used to determine the quality of a pineapple, the second-most exported tropical fruit in Malaysia. It is intrusively using a refractometer which leads to a lot of wastage.

“Our device will allow farmers to check the internal quality of the pineapples in order to ensure that the quality is optimum before harvest. It is a quick and easy solution that these farmers can use,” Tan said, as quoted in a post event release from Microsoft.

Miller, who was in Kuala Lumpur for the competition, said students are forward indicators of what is happening, citing the agriculture-related problem chosen by the Malaysian team as an example.

“We are seeing innovations coming from all sectors, in all forms. It used to be a conversation in the IT (information technology) department. Imagine Cup is about what’s next,” he said.

Miller said the competition has always strived to be the platform for students to turn their dreams into entrepreneurial realities.

“Every year, we have the privilege to witness great ideas from budding innovators working hard to solve pressing challenges with smart, effective solutions.

“We are here to help them take their first steps towards achieving their goals, and we are excited to see how their ideas will define the future we will live in,” he said.

The first runner-up and second runner-up places were awarded to Team Bee-Connex from Thailand and Team 7x from Singapore respectively.

Team BeeConnex from Thailand came up with the Smart Hive.

It is an Internet of Things device that enables beekeepers to track and monitor the health of a beehive. The device is also able to alert beekeepers when potential issues are detected within the hive.

Singapore’s Team 7x created ProCubeX, an interactive smart-learning cube designed as an early intervention tool for children with dyslexia.

The cube will intelligently generate an individualised education plan for dyslexic children, triggering multisensory stimulation, as well as the parts of the brain responsible for language learning.

Aside from MDEC, the other partners for the Asia-Pacific competition were the US Department of State’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST), and Thailand’s largest property developer Siri Ventures.

GIST is the US Department of State’s flagship science and technology entrepreneurship programme that works to support and empower young innovators from 130 emerging economies around the world.

This year’s judging panel included MDEC director for talent and digital entrepreneurship Siti Norliza Mohd Sahar, National University of Singapore Enterprise programme director Kelvin Tan Cheng Kian, Thriving Talents founder Michael Teoh Su Lim, 1337 Ventures founder/CEO Bikesh Lakshminand, and UX Consultant and Netizen Experience co-founder Alvin Chai.