Microsoft’s Imagine Cup empowers student developers and aspiring entrepreneurs from all academic backgrounds to bring an idea to life with technology. Through competition and collaboration, it provides an opportunity to develop an application, create a business plan, and gain a keen understanding of what’s needed to bring a concept to market to make an impact. We’ve partnered with GIST to provide some top tips for turning your idea into a marketable business solution and prepare you to present it effectively on a global stage.
Key things to consider when developing a business idea
1. Assess whether your product is truly novel
In the early development stages of a new idea, it’s important to assess whether your idea already exists in the current market and if so, what unique solution your application can provide.
In the world of intellectual property law, “prior art” is the term used for relevant information that was publicly available before a patent claim. For example, if your company is working on a new type of football helmet, but another company has already given an interview about their own plans to invent such a helmet, that constitutes prior art – and it means your patent claim is likely to face a steep uphill battle. Start by asking yourself if your project is truly novel. What problem does your application solve? Are there similar solutions already on the market? If necessary, work with your university to establish if a patent already exists.
2. Learn to take feedback
It’s easy to get attached to an invention. However, being too lovestruck with your technology can prevent you from absorbing vital feedback from customers, professors, mentors, even teammates. “Feedback is learning,” says Dr. Lawrence Neeley, Associate Professor of Design and Entrepreneurship at Olin College of Engineering. “Sure, feedback can hurt, but understand that you can’t improve your invention without learning what’s wrong with it. Feedback is a mechanism for growth.” In addition, don’t lose sight of the passion that originally drove you to developing a solution, as it can put you in the right mindset to listen to feedback. By keeping the core problem at the forefront, you can more effectively pivot your technology and business model to better address market demands. Read more about how to balance your passion with real-life data to make your project shine.
3. Incorporate diversity & inclusion
Empower everyone to benefit from your solution by considering diversity and inclusion in your project early on. “When accessibility is at the heart of inclusive design, we not only make technology that is accessible for people with disabilities, we invest in the future of natural user interface design and improved usability for everyone,” says Megan Lawrence, an Accessibility Technical Evangelist at Microsoft. Check out some resources to help you build inclusion into your innovation:
- Use Accessibility Insights to run accessibility testing on web pages and applications.
- Learn how to create inclusive design through video tutorials and downloadable toolkits.
- Read the story of two Microsoft teams at Ability Hacks who embraced the transformative power of technology to create inclusive solutions now used by millions of people.
Read more tips on using inclusion as a lens to drive innovation.
4. Consider environmental responsibility
To maximize impact from the start, it’s critical that student innovators develop an environmentally responsible mindset at the earliest stages of their innovation, business, or manufacturing process. Here are some examples from student innovators of how they integrated environmental responsibility into their business models:
- Use renewable energy sources where possible, such as solar power or implementing recycling processes.
- Incorporate sustainable processes through things like reducing packaging, limiting plastic waste, and sourcing materials that are reusable or biodegradable.
- Create an innovation that solves a key environmental issue or repurposes harmful by-products, such as recovering metal water contaminants or converting ocean waste.
Read more about how they leveraged sustainability in their projects.
Maximizing resources for your innovation
It can be a challenge to seek support resources as a student entrepreneur. Here are some top tips for maximizing on and off-campus benefits while you’re still in school – check out additional advice if you’re interested in learning more.
1. Take stock of university resources
Assess what skills you may need beyond just technical and talk to faculty or administrators to develop a roadmap for your time in school. For instance, seek out seminars or courses in different departments to help sharpen writing or public speaking skills, or visit your university library to find out what resources they have to offer student entrepreneurs such as makerspaces, workshops, or guest lectures.
2. Maximize networking opportunities
Connect with others through LinkedIn, your university’s alumni network, classes, hackathons, and more to network with industry-specific experts. Pro-tip: Imagine Cup connects you to a global community of like-minded tech enthusiasts to collaborate and innovate together, in addition to giving you access to industry professionals.
3. Take advantage of competitions
Approach competitions as not just an opportunity to win, but also to further refine your project and go-to-market plan. Leverage feedback and insights from judges, mentors, and peers to continue ideating and developing a marketable solution.
Build business skills through hands-on innovation
What better way to put these tips into practice than through bringing your own solution to life? The Imagine Cup is your opportunity to build a technology innovation from what you’re most passionate about. Regardless of where you place in the competition, you’ll have the chance to connect with like–minded tech enthusiasts across the globe, including joining a network of over two million past competitors. In addition, teams who advance to the Regional Finals will receive mentorship from industry professionals and in-person entrepreneurship workshops from GIST, led by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by VentureWell, to help elevate their solutions.
Learn by doing, code for impact, and build purpose from your passion. Register now for the 2020 competition.