Thoughts from Imagine Cup Innovation Judge

4 minute read

I just completed going through dozens of applications for Imagine Cup 2015 Blueprint Innovation Challenge as a judge. Judging these applications from participants across the globe requires attention, articulation and grasping of the ideas in a very short period of time. I said "short period" because every team has put a lot of effort in brainstorming, surveying, creating business case and creating a plan and as a judges, we cannot put equal amount of time in evaluating these applications.

Just when I completed assessing the first application and found that the second applicant had also missed out on some of the vital aspects of building up a business case, I started scribbling a "what-not-to-miss" list. Thankfully, the list was not too long as there were many applicants who had provided the required information

This post is an elaboration of the same "what-not-to-miss" list so that the participants taking part in future Imagine Cup competitions do not miss these elementary aspects of presenting a business case.

Use the template "wisely"

Definitely use the template that was provided by the organizers of Imagine Cup. But remember to

  • Use appropriate diagrams to illustrate your use cases. Use some advanced tools like Visio, MindMap, Pixlr and alike to think visually
  • Remove the guidelines written in red. They are there to guide you, not the judges
  • Spell check your document for grammar, punctuation marks and spelling corrections
  • Microsoft Word has excellent features that could come handy to you – justify the text, use appropriate headings, single font through-out the document, limited variants of font colours, etc.

Target Audience

Yes, everybody who uses Internet is my target audience. I could say that for my blog posts as well. But that isn't what the target audience means.

Classify it, quantify it, visualize it and write it!

  • Classify – Few examples of good classification are

    Who are your target users?
    Where are they based out of?
    How old are they?
    How frequently will they use your services?

  • Quantify – Once you know who your users are, think more in following areas

    How many users can I target within the first year?
    How many of them are – say Male, Female, Teens, Adults, Sportsmen, IT Professionals, Bankers, etc.?
    Who will primarily use your service more and how much?

  • Visualize – Visualize using charts to get a better idea of what target audience should you cater to primarily
  • Write – Put this data into appropriate words and charts

Early Feedback

Once you have evaluated your target audience, you know from whom you have to collect an early feedback. So be specific!
If you have mentioned 'everyone' in target audience, make sure you have captured a sizable amount of feedback for your idea. Else, please be specific.

Feedbacks are essential tools to have a corrective action when your execution plan doesn't necessarily satisfy your target audience. So feedbacks should be traceable, measurable and actionable.

  • Traceable - There are several online survey tools to gather feedbacks. Use one of them if you are gathering feedback online. If you are using offline tools, keep them for records.
    If you happen to implement this idea, your survey respondents may become your first clients
  • Measurable – Having objective questions always helps to derive a pattern especially when you have a large number of respondents. Descriptive feedback is good to get answers to questions like 'What did you like/dislike the most?' and 'What changes do you suggest to make this product better?'
  • Actionable – Questions should be framed so that you have an action point for it

Also, percentages are really good as they help you see the overall trend in one glimpse. But they do not depict the number of respondents to feedback survey. So do add statistical data wherever you feel necessary.


Google it. There may be companies already providing the proposed service in some other part of the world. You may get inspired by them, or plan to be a competitor to them.

Business Model

Business Model can outline

  • Any stakeholders, partners that you foresee and their role in making your business successful
  • Sustainable plan to see a break-even of investment put in
  • Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) – Expected expenditure, profit, hardware, software, etc.
  • Identify potential business opportunities: 1-year plan or 5-year plan, etc.

If you plan to keep your services (or application) free, it is perfectly fine. But free services also have a business model so that they can earn (let's say, a minimal) profit to sustain (or to break-even) in the market. Remember, companies, like Google, do provide many free services but they do earn from alternate business models to earn money.

So a good business model is a MUST.

Core Technologies

I prefer visual diagrams than pure text, but that may not be the case with every judge. So have a good mix of visual diagrams and text and specify the use of each technology in your service.

You may skip details of how a technology works and, if required, provide an external link as a reference.

Final words

Each step of this competition is actually a preparatory (and elimination) step to the final step where the participants present their ideas in front of esteemed judges. Brain-storming and documenting in the blueprint step definitely gives clarity of thought and an opportunity to think different and get early feedback on your idea.

Make the most out of it and all the best!