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MDS Students win People's Choice Award at Microsoft's Imagine Cup

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Two of Media Design School's third year Bachelor of Software Engineering students, Sena Kim and Joshua Tanner, joined forces with MIT student Rakshit Bhaskar to develop a software called Cura as part of the Microsoft Imagine Cup.

With their concept for Cura, a software that aids dementia patients by providing information about their upcoming tasks and creating a family tree which family members can set up from home using a web app, the team made the Imagine Cup national semi-finals. 

While they didn't walk away with the main prize, the Cura team did pick up the Datacom People's Choice Award and a $1000 cash prize. We spoke to Sena about her team's success and what inspired them to create a software that connects families and caregivers with dementia patients.

From left: Josh Tanner, Sena Kim, and Rakshit Bhaskar

For those who have never heard of it, how would you describe what the Imagine Cup is?

The Imagine Cup is the largest global technology competition, which is open to all students. A team of three students need to use their creativity, tech knowledge, and business skills to create a marketable application. Within just a couple months, teams have to build part of their app, pitch their app and acquire market validation. 

What made you want to enter the Imagine Cup? How did you form your team?

I participated in the Microsoft Student Accelerator (MSA) program for a summer internship in a tech company. The transition from there to the Imagine Cup was easy. MSA really motivates students to participate in the Imagine Cup.  

Josh is a close classmate. I asked him first. I knew he entered the Summer of Tech programme and I thought he would be open to the idea of creating an application during summer. Bhaskar was another intern I met from the internship during summer through MSA. His job during his internship was website development.   

Tell us about Project Cura! What inspired you to create this particular app?

Imagine Cup is about changing the world by using technology to solve a problem. It could be an app, website, game or a hardware device. There are so many technologies out there already, yet technology built around elderly people is limited because they are often not accustomed to using technology like we are now. We knew targeting older generations with an app would be challenging but it was easy to describe the specific problem we were attempting to solve.

With Cura, our goal is create a platform that allows dementia patients to interact with an app to be reminded about tasks and people without having to even physically interact with the device. The other side of Cura is about allowing caregivers and families to connect with the dementia patients by creating schedules and family trees filled with photographic memories. 

How did you feel when you found out that you’d made the national semi-finals?

The way that the Imagine Cup worked this year is that the top eight teams in NZ participated in the semi-finals but nobody except the judges knew which teams were the 3 finalists until the night of the finals where teams got called up to present. We were hopeful that we would be a finalist team but as we found out on the night, we weren't. We were still so happy to be at the finals event, however.

What skills that you’ve picked up from your BSE degree did you apply to Project Cura?

Coding and teamwork were the two most important elements. We needed to contact many people to make the project happen and we needed to carefully organise our time. We held team sprints and logged our tasks online. It was busy between working on Cura and working on BSE projects and our time management skills certainly came out for the better.

You walked away with the Datacom People's Choice Award! How did you feel when you found out you’d won this prize? 

We were not included in top three finalist teams so we were initially disappointed. But people's choice award was even better! The crowd like our idea and they thought our idea was the best. We did not expect it so it was so pleasing and restored our motivation. 

What next for this project? Will you continue to work on it now the Imagine Cup is over?

We have already formed partnerships with companies while working on Imagine Cup and we organised to have trial runs of our product in June so we need to stick to that deadline. We still have a lot more to develop for the app's core functionality. That will be our goal for now but there are so many ways we are looking to expand the functionality of the Cura platform in the future.