From time to time, students and faculty members approach me and ask how my teams were so successful in the Imagine Cup Software Development Initiative (SDI). While there is no exact formula to crafting a successful Imagine Cup submission, I have noticed some common factors over the past couple of years that will increase your teams chances of making it to the U.S. Finals and beyond. So I thought that I would share those thoughts in a series of posts on good Imagine Cup SDI submissions. I will begin with the two items that I feel are probably most important factors in a successful submission.
- Start with the problem. Often times, students want to start with a solution, and then retro-fit it to a problem. Good systems analysis dictates that you have to have a good problem definition if you are going to be able to solve it with technology. If you start with a clearly defined problem the chances that your solution with address the problem well enough to make the finals will increase greatly.
So what makes a good problem? First and foremost you have to choose a problem in a area that you are passionate about. The team that made the U.S. Finals in Boston in 2009 had a team member that had friends who had gone through a very difficult time adopting a child. She saw how painful that process was and chose to solve the problem of fixing the adoption process. Since being in a foster home is very difficult (and at times detrimental) to the development of a young child, their solution fell into the U.N. Goal of maternal/child welfare. Last years team that went to the U.S. Finals in Washington D.C. had a team member that had several families in the medical field. He saw how they were making a difference in peoples lives and wanted to make a difference as well. He had often read about how medical research data was not being shared and how this hindered the advancement of treatment and cures for disease. Therefore, he chose the problem of making medical research data more accessible to researchers around the world. His problem fell primarily into the U.N. problem of global partnerships, but it could really have fallen into any of the medically related problem categories.
If you begin with a problem that you can clearly articulate, and that you are passionate about, you will find that it makes the design of your software much easier and it will also keep you interested in working on the project through the various stages.
- Think "Multi-disciplinary.” What does this mean? Well the Imagine Cup SDI requires that you not only turn in a software product, but that you have a business plan, a marketing plan, and a presentation to go along with it. This means that having a team with all computer science (CS)or information technology (IT) majors might be at a disadvantage because, while they are great technically, they may not have the business knowledge to have a well rounded submission. MIS majors generally fare a little better from a business standpoint, but their software submissions are not usually that of the hard core CS or IT teams.
My team last year had three computer science majors and an MBA student. The MBA student handled much of the business plan and marketing. The computer science students split up the various parts of the software application. One of the computer science students was a very good graphic artist and photographer, so he took the lead on the video and the presentation. Remember, the SDI is a team competition. So you can have team members with different skill sets that contribute to the submission in different ways. That way you have all the coverage that you need for the various deliverables that are required in the SDI.
I will write about a few more items that make for great submissions in my next post. Until then, it’s really time to start getting excited about Imagine Cup, so start thinking about how you want to change the world. Find something that you are passionate about and then find some people with different skills to share your passion. It just might be the beginning of a journey that takes you to New York City for the World Finals!