2015 Imagine Cup champions have leveraged contest momentum for real-world success

Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, an annual competition where teams of young developers compete to build innovative products, has been enabling some impressive success stories over the last two years. Last week, we reported that Brainy Studio, a game studio created by three students of Perm National Research Polytechnic University, went to win the first place in the Games category of the 2014 Imagine Cup edition with a prototype of “TurnOn,” a platform game that has since been released on Windows Phone, the Xbox One, and Steam.

But if you’re wondering what did 2015 Imagine Cup champions achieve a year after their victory, Microsoft published last week an interesting recap of their entrepreneurship journey. We’ll share with you the most interesting bits below.

Juliana Pirani, a young woman who grew up in São Paulo, Brazil, got her first sewing machine at age 13 and has been interested in fashion ever since. She went to the 2014 Imagine Cup with two of their eFitFashion teammates and their “Clothes For Me” project, which is a solution that leverages software to help people customize clothes to fit their own measurements and also allow them to connect to seamstresses to make the garments for them.

The eFitFashion team after winning 2015 Imagine Cup Innovation category.

The eFitFashion team after winning 2015 Imagine Cup Innovation category.

Pirani and her team went to win the first place at the Innovation competition and also took home the World Champion trophy. Since then, she has been working to turn the “Clothes For Me” project into a business, and she will launch an online marketplace for custom-made clothing in the next few months. Additionally, she also has another project in the pipeline involving 9- and 10-year-olds children wanting to learn how to design clothes and Brazilian impoverished women looking for more stability. Overall, her participation to the 2015 Imagine Cup definitely changed her life:

Before Imagine Cup, I wasn’t so sure I would be a businesswoman and open my own company. But after all the opportunities and things that have happened, it was like a path I had to pursue. I need to see what’s there for me.

The most amazing thing that happened was the opportunity to be able to transform people’s lives with this project, to go to places I’ve never been before and talk about it. To have people say to me, ‘Wow; that’s amazing … I want to know more.’

Juliana Pirani showing off the eFitFashion concept at the Windows 10 “Dream. Create. Do” Student Showcase on May 10 in New York.

Juliana Pirani showing off the eFitFashion concept at the Windows 10 “Dream. Create. Do” Student Showcase on May 10 in New York.

The Australian team behind Virtual Dementia Experience, a technology solution designed to help caregivers better understand the perspective of people living with dementia, won First Place in last year’s World Citizenship category. Virtual Dementia Experience was developed for Alzheimer’s Australia Vic, a dementia education and advocacy organization which now uses the technology to train caregivers by simulating what everyday tasks feel like for people with dementia. Alzheimer’s Australia Vic’s Tanya Petrovich shared that using Virtual Dementia Experience “has been phenomenal,” as caregivers training with it “shift their focus from the task to the person.”

Since then, Norman Wang and Liam McGuire, two members of the Australian team are now leveraging the technology behind Virtual Dementia Experience to develop “Earthlight,” a game that relies on a virtual reality headset and Microsoft’s Kinect to simulate an out of space experience outside the International Space Station. NASA eventually heard of the project and invited Wang and McGuire to visit NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in March. The space agency now collaborates with the developer to explore how the game could be used to train astronauts, with Wang adding that “being able to say that we collaborate with NASA to help train the next generation of astronauts is a profoundly rewarding thing to have happen.”

“Earthlight” may be released by the end of the year, and Wang shared that participating in the Imagine Cup helped him become more confident and effective in his work:

The competition was intense, and it taught us to be prepared and be flexible and really know the ins and outs of what we’re talking about. It fundamentally changed how we present information.

Norman Wang trying on a spacesuit helmet at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to assess an astronaut’s field of vision.

Norman Wang trying on a space suit helmet at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to assess an astronaut’s field of vision.

Lastly, Alexander Vilassak, Daria Kruzhinskaya, and Dari Chernova from the Russian team IzHard won in the Games category last year without having any prior experience in making games. Their game, “OVIVO,” is a mysterious puzzle-platformer based on the gravity mechanics.

After winning the $50,000 prize, Vilassak explained that the Russian team “felt like rock stars” and went on to create a real game studio. They also refused an offer from a Moscow-based publisher to publish their game, with Vilassak adding that “after Imagine Cup, it gave us an opportunity to make our studio and do what we want to do with the game. It’s a dream job when … you don’t have any rules or directors to get in the way of what you want to do.”

In April, IzHard developers attended the annual gaming event PAX East and showcased their game with the help of Imagine Cup Competition Manager Pablo Veramendi. The response was very good: “It is very exciting when people with fire in their eyes play your game and they love it,” shared Vilassak. A month later, the game studio put their game on Steam Greenlight, a dedicated platform where gamers can vote to support the release of indie games on the gaming platform. Steam gamers went to greenlight “OVIVO” in just 10 days.

Right now, the game studio is adding some finishing touches to the game’s levels, and they’re also talking to publishers to help them ship the game on PC and mobile devices once it’s completed. Overall, Vilassak sometimes struggles to realize that Imagine Cup allowed him and his teammates to “make games that we always dreamed of.” He added that “we learned a lot and got so much experience and (met) many new people, it was the biggest journey of our life.”

Microsoft Imagine Cup Competition Manager Pablo Veramendi (at far right) helped IzHard developers showcase their game “OVIVO” at PAX East.

Microsoft Imagine Cup Competition Manager Pablo Veramendi (at far right) helped IzHard developers showcase their game “OVIVO” at PAX East.

This year, the Imagine Cup World Finals will happen on July 28 and 29, 2016, and you will be able to watch the live streams on the dedicated website. Did you imagine that participating in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup could lead to such fascinating journeys? Let us know in the comments if you feel inspired by these different developer stories.

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