Business School students reach Microsoft Imagine Cup final

01 March 2010

Three Business School students worried about artisans in developing countries being ripped off by unfair trading have made the final of the New Zealand Microsoft Imagine Cup for 2010.

Justin Scott, Medha Ghatikesh and Sam Dalton will vie for the title against three other teams, which will see the winners representing New Zealand at the global finals in Poland in July.

Their team, called Vital Link, says poverty is a major world problem, and because artisans in developing countries do not get a fair price for handicrafts, they remain perpetually below the poverty line.

“We hope to increase the artisans’ sales and earnings, so their quality of life is improved,” the team says.

“We propose to utilise the social networking power of Facebook to increase the awareness and availability of fair trade products. Building on the work of existing fair trade organisations, we plan to provide a global marketplace for the handicrafts.

“By capitalising on the viral marketing capabilities of Facebook, the artisans will achieve higher sales and thus make more money for themselves and their communities.”

The trio beat more than 100 other groups who initially entered the competition in December to make the top 20 list, and feverish work over the summer break saw them picked as one of four preliminary finalists by a judging panel comprised of Microsoft employees, business experts and technology journalists.

Other finalists are:

  • Team One Beep, a University of Auckland team that has developed a system for delivering data over conventional radio transmitters to enable educational material to be delivered to impoverished schools and communities in countries where phone and internet facilities are rare.
  • Team Enpeda, a University of Auckland team which has devised a working prototype of a computer-controlled driver assistance system that warns drivers if they stray off-course and into danger.
  • Team eUtopia from the University of Waikato which has developed a live video distribution service that links conservation organisations to the public and allows for remote monitoring, research and surveillance of animals.

Microsoft director of the developer and platform group Scott Wylie says the quality of the proposals this year is better than years past.

“We asked students to solve the world’s toughest problems, and they’ve come up with exceptional ideas to do just that.”

The Imagine Cup is the world’s largest technology competition, challenging students from around the globe to develop technologies to help solve the world’s toughest problems. Now in its eighth year, the competition is truly global, with more than 300,000 students from 100 countries participating.

“It is extremely gratifying to see a Business School team in the top four, and we wish them all the best for success at the finals in April,” Business School Dean Professor Greg Whittred says.

“All the four finalist teams have superb highly developed proposals, and going by the quality of the ideas, New Zealand’s ICT future is in good hands.”

The national finals will be held at the Business School on April 30, following an in-depth presentation before a second panel of judges. The winning team will attend the Warsaw world final from 3 to 8 July.