Every year since 2003, the Microsoft Imagine Cup has invited student teams from around the world to compete for gold and glory, while “using technology to solve the world’s toughest problems.”
At this summer’s competition in Seattle, I sat down with the finalists from Bahrain, Alaa Mohammed and Marwa Buhaila, in the midst of their busy schedule of training sessions and press conferences. Their product, called Nail Polish Mixer, had earned them a week’s trip to Seattle, a spot at the finals among 120 other students from all over the world, and eventually, a third-place prize in the Innovation category.
“I was searching for an idea for a senior class project,” said Mohammed, 24, when I asked about the idea behind her project. “Last summer, I came home and found my sister sitting at a table with 127 bottles of nail polish, unable to decide which one.” The computer engineering major sprung into action, and developed a device that has solved this very particular problem.
Nail Polish Mixer is a software and hardware combination that prints a custom nail polish color in less than 60 seconds. Users pull up the palette app on their mobile or tablet, pick a color, and the software wirelessly communicates with the hardware to print the polish in the perfect shade.
Mohammed and civil engineering student Buhaila, age 20, together developed a prototype for both the hardware and software. They then applied for research sponsorship with an incubator associated with Bahrain University and Bahrain Development Bank, and got connected with Microsoft’s in-country team. “Microsoft in Bahrain were very helpful,” Mohammed says, “and the government also has been very supportive” of the project.
“Bahrain cares about entrepreneurship,” the young engineer continues, “there are lots of programs for youths teaching them how to start their businesses.” These include BDB and the Tamkeen program, as well as the Economic Development Bank of Bahrain.
Check out Wamda’s interview with the women from Bahrain here:
Microsoft’s regional team also hopes to help foster entrepreneurship among Arab youth. “Microsoft has a big responsibility as a market lead to make sure we help students and other people with great ideas succeed,” says Amintas Neto, Microsoft’s Academia and Startup Lead in the Middle East and Africa. “When teams are selected, we help them grow with their projects. Then when they come to the worldwide finals, this is the opportunity for them to get the maturity level needed to launch in the market.”
“If they then decide to start a business,” Neto continued, “Microsoft provides free software, cloud computing… and help them get mentorship and coaching sessions.”
This year, other finalists from the region included teams from Egypt and Qatar.