A team from Brazil was named the world champion in the 2015 Microsoft Imagine Cup student technology competition this afternoon with a software project that automatically customizes clothing patterns based a user’s measurements, coupled with an online marketplace that connects those users with tailors and seamstresses who can make and sell the clothes.
The team, eFitFashion, spent three years developing the algorithms that automatically customize the patterns. They’ve patented the technology, formed a startup and are now pitching investors on the concept.
They emerged with the overall Imagine Cup title after competing against two other category winners on stage in Seattle today:
- Virtual Dementia Experience, created by a team from Australia, using virtual reality to help caregivers and others understand and better care for people with dementia. This team was the winner in the Imagine Cup World Citizenship competition.
- IzHard, an immersive, challenging black-and-white puzzle platforming game created by a team from Russia. This team won the Imagine Cup Games competition.
I served as a volunteer judge in the Imagine Cup Innovation competition, which eFitFashion won to advance to the world finals — an accomplishment in its own right given the high quality of projects across the competition. One of the reasons they stood out was the potential for their platform to not only solve a consumer problem but also to empower tailors and seamstresses around the world, including those in developing nations, by connecting them with consumers they wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.
“This is obviously going to take off,” said Alex Kipman, the Microsoft technical fellow responsible for products including Kinect and the HoloLens holographic headset, who was one of three judges who made the final decision on stage today.
He was joined by fellow judges Jens Bergensten, the Minecraft lead developer; and Thomas Middleditch, star of HBO’s hit show Silicon Valley. In between jokes on stage, Middleditch questioned the team about the potential for pirated patterns to be used on the platform — an intellectual property challenge not unlike those faced by his character, Richard Hendricks, on the HBO show.
“It’s the biggest question that’s going to prevent or allow them to make it commercial,” Middleditch predicted in an interview afterward with GeekWire, noting that one benefit of the team winning Imagine Cup is that they’ll be able to connect with experts who can help them address that challenge.
On stage, Middleditch noted that two of the winning teams had more women than men — an important point and a positive sign for efforts by the tech industry to diversify its ranks.
(Editor’s Note: Stay tuned this weekend for a special GeekWire podcast featuring our full interview with Middleditch.)
In addition to getting a $50,000 prize for winning the Innovation category, the winning team will be entered into an accelerator to further develop their project, and they’ll get a one-on-one meeting with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who presented the trophy to the winners.
Imagine Cup started in 2003 and has grown to include 330,000 students in 100 countries. Many of the teams use Microsoft technologies as part of their projects, but in some cases they also incorporate competing technologies and make software for other platforms, as well.
Steve Guggenheimer, Microsoft’s chief evangelist, said the professionalism of the teams keeps increasing, with many of the students already forming startups and seeking funding for their ideas.
“It gets better every year,” Guggenheimer said.
Here’s the audio of our conversation with Guggenheimer backstage at the event.