Top tips for submitting competition entries from an Imagine Cup Winner
Guest post by Ilias Chrysovergis Microsoft Student Partner at Imperial College London
Hey! My name is Ilias Chrysovergis and I am an EEE MSc student at Imperial College London. My main academic interests are machine learning, signal processing and data science and I am also keen on Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality. I really enjoy learning new technologies to understand their impact on our everyday life. Having participated in various projects, I always try to leverage and combine traditional and state-of-the-art technologies to create innovative solutions for real-life problems. In the summer of 2016, my team AMANDA and I, won the first place at the World Citizenship Category in the World Finals of the Imagine Cup. I am always open to new challenges and eager to work with extraordinary people and teams. You can find me on LinkedIn via the following link: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ilias-chrysovergis-99872690/
Now that the national & online finals of the 16th Imagine Cup competition have been completed and the world finalists are getting ready for their once-in-a-lifetime experience in Seattle, I recall the emotions and thoughts I had two years ago, while I was preparing with my team AMANDA (https://imagine.microsoft.com/en-us/team/A8DE0975-BEAC-47FB-8B49-0AD27AD6F592 ) for the world finals. Last week I was at my alma mater in Thessaloniki, Greece and while I was speaking with researchers of the Signal Processing and Biomedical Engineering Laboratory, which every year since the beginning of the Imagine Cup sends a finalist to Seattle, I saw a member of the team that will represent Aristotle University of Thessaloniki this year. By the moment he entered the lab, I was with a member of team PROGNOSIS (https://imaginecup.microsoft.com/en-us/Team/Index/6e828a4e-bb87-4723-b862-927aaa111202 ), who won the Ability Award in the 13th Imagine Cup. We instantly felt the vibe of an Imagine Cup world finalist and we recalled the excitement, anxiety, passion to do our best, joy and all the other conflicting emotions that one feels a month before the trip to Seattle.
That’s why I decided to share my experience and give some suggestions on what you, the world finalists, should pay attention for your presentations to the judges. Although there is no formula to success that one team could copy, there are some first principles that you should be thinking on in order to make the most out of your 10-20 minutes that you will have to present and showcase your project. I am sure that there are a lot of things you have in mind right now and I guess that you do not know from where to commence. So, let’s start!
1. Explain the Problem
The first thing that you should do is to explain the problem you are addressing and try to make clear to the judges what is happening and why is it happening. This will help them understand that you provide a solution to all the issues that arise due to the phenomenon and realize that your approach is holistic and takes all the major & minor factors into consideration. By doing that, you will show them that you have achieved the most challenging part of the whole process, understanding the phenomenon. This is necessary because the ability to solve a problem originates by the level of your awareness on it. Therefore, you should show how the problem affects society, a specific group of people or organizations, decompose the phenomenon into its main aspects and describe the different roles that people, organizations, government and institutions play into it. Your toolkit is statistics that are available, specific research by experts on the issue, videos or other multimedia and anything else that help you interpret why a solution to that problem is vital.
2. Present your Solution
Now that you have proven the significance of the problem and shown the necessity for a solution, you should present your solution. Show how your project addresses each aspect of the problem and how it augments the work of those who have a key-role in it. For example, if you are dealing with the problem of bullying you should not forget the important role that teachers, educators and psychologists play. Thus, your solution should enhance their work too. Additionally, you must explain the whole process of the system you are building, in order to help them understand that there is a beginning, middle and end into your story. You should not leave big unanswered questions on how your product works. On the contrary, you should force them to have questions on things that are important details and you would like to say, but the presentation’s time limit does not allow you. Until now you should just state what technologies you leverage (i.e. Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Internet of Things, Cloud Computing) but don’t dig into more details. You just want to show the big picture of your project and how a deep learning algorithm is developed or how you built the backend of your system may be unnecessary. So, you should present your project into a more abstract way and be prepared for the more technical and detailed questions on the hands-on evaluation.
3. Live Demo or Video Showcase
Since you have explained the problem and showed how your system addresses it along with the technologies that are behind it, you can do a live showcase of your software during the presentation or show a video of your beneficiaries using your product. There are pros and cons on doing a live demo during the presentation, since it may excite the judges a lot but also it may cost you precious time from your presentation, if you encounter any kind of problem. So, this is up to you. But make sure that you include a video of your product, showing all the different functionalities that it provides, to make the judges want to test it on the hands-on session.
4. Case Studies
Now is the time to demonstrate any tests or case studies that you have conducted with real users that belong to groups of people who are going to use your product when it becomes available. Indicate the procedure that you follow and how their feedback shaped your decisions on the design & development of your system. You can also add statistics on how these people reacted on your application, some key-aspects that changed using it and statements they made about their experience.
5. Additional General Information
Having finished a big and an important amount of your presentation, you can add whatever you find relevant before presenting the business plan, which counts a lot to your score according to Imagine Cup 2018 Rules and Regulations that you can find here. So, now you can mention technologies, tools, software, SDKs, libraries, devices and any other resources that you have used such as Visual Studio, Microsoft Azure, Cognitive Services or Microsoft Hololens. With that, you show to the judges that you know what you are doing, and you give yourself the opportunity to receive questions that you are confident to answer. You can also discuss other issues on ethics, privacy and data protection, security, intellectual property etc., that may arise by the introduction of your product in the market. Furthermore, you can present future work and ideas that you have for further implementation into your product.
6. Business Model
As stated above, your business plan is very important to your overall score and is something that most of the teams do not take very seriously, since they believe that their product is unique, there is no competition, and everyone is going to use it. According to Peter Thiel, the fact that “you’ve invented something new, but you haven’t invented an effective way to sell it” is the reason why you do not have a good and viable product. You should take all these things into consideration to persuade the judges that if you decide to hit the market you know how to do it. Thus, you should explain who your target market is, what is your pricing policy (or how your company/organization will make money out of it in order to be able to operate), what subscriptions do you offer, who are your competitors and how do you differentiate from them, who are your collaborators and partners, which are your revenue streams and how do you plan your company’s near and distant future. Your toolkit now includes the business canvas, break-even scenarios, timelines, SWOT, Porter’s Five Forces & PEST analyses, the radar chart and other business tools you believe that help you demonstrate your business model.
7. Know your Judges
I believe that in the previous paragraphs you can find the first principles that you should build your presentation on. One more thing that is left is that you should know the judges. By the moment their names become available you should search about what they are doing, what they are passionate about, what is the field of their expertise and what they care about. This will help you a lot on realizing what questions you are going to be asked and will give you the opportunity to better prepare for that. For example, if you are building a Mixed Reality application and one of the judges has worked on Microsoft Hololens, be sure that he/she will have a lot of technical questions to ask.