This blog is about our journey to the World Finals of Imagine Cup 2021.
Our team “Virtual Radiologist” ( Ashish Adhikari, Sabil Shrestha, Sansrit Paudel and me ) were selected as the World Finalists in Imagine Cup 2021. Competing in one of the greatest student competitions, along with amazing students from across the globe, it was really a dream come true.
Imagine Cup is an annual competition sponsored and hosted by Microsoft which brings together student worldwide to help resolve some of the world’s toughest challenges. It is considered as “Olympics of Technology” by computer science and engineering, and is considered one of the top competitions and awards related to technology and software.
Out of the tens of thousands of students from 163 countries who registered for the 2021 Imagine Cup, our team reached the World Finals and we were the Earth Category Runner up in the Imagine Cup 2021.
Imagine Cup 2021 World Finals happened virtually.
It was a lifetime opportunity for us to represent Nepal at the World Finals.
And in this blog, I will share the experience of this incredible journey. So, let’s start from the start.
Talking about my journey to Imagine Cup, its incomplete without stating my journey of Microsoft Learn Student Ambassador program.
The start point for both was same.
It was November 2, 2019, Microsoft Imagine Cup Bootcamp Nepal was being organized at Softwarica College. A few days earlier, Rashika, who is a Microsoft Learn Student Ambassador from our university had invited me. Hoping to learn something, I was there, and this was the point of inception.
That day I learnt about the Imagine Cup and the Microsoft Learn Student Ambassadors program, then known as Microsoft Student Partners. And I was very inspired form the sessions of previous Imagine Cup winners, finalists from Nepal, MVPs and MSPs.
Microsoft Learn Student Ambassador
The idea of becoming the Force for Good and helping to empower other students with technology was very exciting for me.
After the event, on our way back from Softwarica College to Ratnapark Bus Park, I was having a talk with Aashish Subedi about the event.
He asked me if I would apply for the Imagine Cup. At that time, I didn’t had a good project or an idea. So, I told him that, I was not sure for this year, probably I would try next year, but one thing was for sure; I would be applying to the Microsoft Student Partners program.
November 30, I applied for the program. January 9, 2020, I got an email: ‘Welcome to the Microsoft Student Partners program‘.
For the rest of 2020, I was very active in the community. I participated, spoke at , hosted, organized, leaded a lot of events and in the process, learnt a lot, and made friends from around the world.
All this knowledge of different technical skills as well as communication, management and presentation helped a lot for and in the Imagine Cup.
Know more about the program: https://studentambassadors.microsoft.com/
January 2021, and we conducted a similar kind of Bootcamp Event for the Imagine Cup 2021, to help other students know about Imagine Cup.
The difference from last year was, I was on the other side, the organizing side for this bootcamp.
And, we had a team and we had the project.
Our project Pico Sat is a miniature version of an environmental satellite, which provides you information about your environment. It has microcontrollers with different sensors which collects different environmental parameters and transfer them via internet or radio waves.
And the information is stored, analyzed and visualized in graphs and charts.
More about the project here: Pico Sat
The competition required us to submit the proposal and the software along with software instructions.
We prepared all those and submitted.
Imagine Cup 2021 World Finals
March 2, 2021, I was at the university. Early morning I woke up, and picked up my phone to call my dad and wish him a Happy Birthday.
I saw there were two emails arrived in the night. One of them was a very good news. I can’t share it here for some reasons.
And the second one stopped my nervous system for a time. It read:
‘Congratulations Team Virtual Radiologist – you are a 2021 Imagine Cup World Finalist!‘
I couldn’t believe it for a few minutes, and while still in shock, called and wished my dad and told my family about it and explained, how much of a big thing it was.
Then I called my teammates, who also became super excited.
The email also had a many instructions. We had to fill up some surveys, do some sign ups and a lot more information on it.
Finishing the tasks, I returned home that day from university and had a great time with my family.
3rd of March, we had our All-Competitor Briefing. We were briefed about the competition format, important dates and some other information.
Now some dates like 3 Minute Pitch and Round 1 dates and times were for us to choose from given slots while, there were some other fixed dates events for our help and guidance.
We also got introduced to the Imagine Cup Team as well:
- Keith Loeber, Imagine Cup Director
- Pablo Veramendi, Global Competition Director
- Cristina Brendicke, Comms and PR Manager
- Gabrielle Wilson, Social Media Lead
- Jalen McGee, Student Audience Program Manager
- Jeff Clausen, Competition Lead
- Karin Weltman, Registration and Logistics Lead
- Joan Hoshino, Event Owner
It was a wonderful moment meeting with all these amazing people. Really thankful for creating this amazing platform for students.
We also received 1000$ Azure credits for enhancing our project.
We also got opportunity to meet other teams in the World Finals. There were 39 teams from across the world under categories:
Here we were not only competing with the best minds from their classes, but best minds from across the world. We were so much happy to be a part of this photo, this experience, along with these amazing and inspiring people from across the globe.
Helps and Recognitions
We started sharing it on our socials and everybody were very happy about it. I was very proud to be representing Nepal in this amazing platform.
We are very much thankful to our Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Kathmandu University and our HoD Bal Krishna Bal sir for managing space and resources for our team to collaborate and work on the project.
The MVP from Nepal Mr. Pradeep Kandel helped us along the journey with all guidance and resources. Pradeep dai and Nishan dai set up a meeting for us along with other domain expert, which was very helpful in marketing aspect of our project. Our visiting faculty at KU, Raunak Maskay sir also helped us with guidance.
Our accomplishment were shared by many medias in Nepal.
And we were also featured by Routine of Nepal Banda, which is one of the largest and reputed news media in Nepal.
The 3 Minute Pitch
We needed to record a 3 minute project pitch, that would later be shared with judges to familiarize them with the project.
Our Pitch was on March 9. Sabil from out group gave the pitch, which went good.
Throughout the month of March there were numerous events/ activities being organized by the Imagine Cup Team for us to learn and prepare our best for the event.
Now, lets not go to all date details. There were events as meeting with Judge Panels, previous Imagine Cup World Finalists, sessions for helping with presentations, Q&As, etc. Those were all very very helpful and we got to meet with some really inspiring personalities.
As all events were happening at morning Pacific time, it was around night time for us, every event.
On March 23, we got a call from UPS. Microsoft had sent us the Imagine Cup Swags.
Here is the unboxing.
Meanwhile, we also took some group and project photos and updated our team profile in the Imagine Cup portal.
Throughout all these, we had been constantly working to enhance our project. For weeks we collaborated at our university work space and worked on the project.
We worked on the hardware and added new way of data transfer. We incorporated the Azure IoT Hub and other Azure services and enhanced our project.
Our final project was something like:
Imagine Cup Round 1
Finally it was March 25, Round 1 of Imagine Cup 2021.
Round 1 was more of a showcase demo, where we would demonstrate our solutions and answer the judges questions. Round 1 was happening on multiple days slots, ours was on March 25.
Each team would have 8 minutes time on total, only top 3 teams from each category, would move on to Round 2.
Our judges were:
- Ayca Bas
- Chris Noring
- Henk Boelman
- Lee Stott
- Ruth Yakabu
We were at our university work space, from where we gave the demo. I gave the pitch and software demo and Sansrit gave the hardware demo.
Our Q&A went good as well.
I think the last question was the one, that made the difference. We were asked why one would buy our project and we answered, ‘Every Person in this planet should have right to know the quality of air he/she is breathing and…‘ and the time bell ring, marking the end of our 8 minute time.
We said that answer on flow and till this date, I am not sure what I would say after ‘and‘ hadn’t the bell rung.
After the Round 1, it was already pretty late night for us. So, we took a group photo, and I went back to my room and slept.
Into the Next Phase
Next morning, I was very tired and woke up late to the phone call from Sansrit. He told that we were in. We were in the Top 12 teams. (Top 3 teams in Earth Category)
There was an email regarding that from Imagine Cup.
Finally after weeks, we went to attend the university classes that day.
On March 27, we had our Round 2 competition briefing. Round 2 was happening on March 31.
Also, a mentor had been assigned to each group, for helping with the Round 2 pitch. We were grateful to have Henk Boelman as our mentor. Henk is a Cloud Advocate specializing in Artificial intelligence and Azure with a background in application development.
On the following days, we had a couple of sessions with Henk, where he guided us with best practices to follow during the pitch and ideas to make the best out of demo.
We also had mentoring sessions with Rupesh Krishna Shrestha sir, Deependra Bajracharya sir and previous finalists.
Imagine Cup Round 2
And finally it was March 31, the Round 2 day.
Round 2 was a pitch and demo session, followed by a group Q&A. Each group would give presentation and demo for maximum 3 minutes and there would be a group Question and Answer session by judges after that.
The judges for Round 2 were:
- Kai Frazier
- Jason Goldberg
- Keira Havens
- Neil Sebire
- Amanda Silver
- Devendra Singh
For the past few days we had been working on our slides, pitch and backup demo video. Also, for the past few days, Kathmandu had been in its worst polluted environment.
Hazardous haze blankets valley – The Himalayan Times
As it matched perfectly with our theme and project, we decided to start our slide with the same issue.
That day it rained heavily, a lot. A few hours before the event, we went to canteen and had dinner. Then we came back to our work space and all set for the Round 2.
Few Moment To Go…
And just a few moment before the event, the electricity power went off. It was very unusual in the university, even the backup power was not available, probably because of the weather.
We waited for a few minutes, hoping it would come back or the backup power would start, but they didn’t. And we had to make quick decisions and quick changes.
We made some changes, setup lights with torches. What I was amazed about myself that day was the perseverance and calmness I had developed. Had I been put into same situation more than a year before, I would have frozen out of nervousness. And that day, despite everything, I was doing my best, and so were my teammates.
That moment, I was really thankful for every events, challenges, that I were part of over the last year, because those were the things which taught me all these.
Imagine Cup Round 2 Starts
The event started. Pablo with “Virtual Drum Roll Please!!!”, shared the outline. Our turn was in second last.
One by one, teams started giving the presentation and demo. Somewhere in the middle, we realized, the laptop that we were going to use for the main presentation and demo might run out of battery, so we switched everything and set up in another laptop.
And the electricity came back!
And, just a moment before our presentation, it went off again. Thankfully, we had everything set up. I gave the presentation pitch and Sansrit gave the hardware demo.
It went very good. The electricity issue didn’t have any impact on our performance. Only apart from that, I looked like one pitching from a decades old camera due to my camera lighting, as I only had one torch light focused there.
After that we had our Q&A round, which went good as well.
And around half an hours later, the results were announced. Team ProTag from New Zealand became the winning team in the Earth Category. ProTag is a smart ear tag for livestock that can detect the early onset of illness in real-time; lowering costs and increasing animal welfare along with farmers peace of mind.
We ended up as Earth Category Runner Ups, and here came the end to our journey of Imagine Cup World Finals. It had already been midnight time by then, so I went back from university and slept.
The four winning teams from each category competed in the World Championship, where Team REWABA from Kenya won the Imagine Cup 2021. The project was an IoT-based infant monitoring solution, which remotely analyzes infant parameters during post-natal screening and serves as an early warning intervention system.
We being Runner Ups, also won Trophies and some cash prizes.
Here is the Trophy Unboxing.
So, this was our journey, four students from Kathmandu University, Nepal to the World Finals of Microsoft Imagine Cup 2021.
For me personally, it has been a lifetime experience. Yes, there is this thing that Imagine Cup 2021 happened virtually. It would have been an amazing experience to fly to Seattle for World Finals. But, even virtually it has been a once in a lifetime experience.
These were some of the best memories ever. I got to learn and explore so much, and meet amazing talented people from across the world. And the best part was everybody was using innovation for something good.
Imagine Cup has been a dream come true.