07/18/2011 11:40 am ET Updated Sep 13, 2011

How We Can Help Students' Social Innovation Have Real World Impact

Wednesday in New York student teams from over 70 countries celebrated the winners of the 2011 Imagine Cup - a competition that challenges students to use technology to solve the world's toughest problems. This is the ninth year of the Imagine Cup and the innovation, ingenuity and creativity of these students is just incredible - over 350,000 students from every corner of the world participated in this year's competition.

The 2011 Imagine Cup winner was Team Hermes from Ireland who designed a device that plugs into a car and monitors dangerous driving behavior and road conditions, providing instant feedback to both the driver and the car owner. The runner-up was Team Note Taker from the United States who created a portable device that increases note-taking speeds and is particularly useful for people who are visually impaired.

The socially-focused solutions we see in the Imagine Cup, from around the world, have made us think.

Here are all these incredible projects, incredible ideas. They are all focused on solving pressing social issues. So how can we help the students turn those ideas from projects into real world solutions?

Yesterday Microsoft announced a new initiative. We are committing $3 million over the next three years to provide a small number of teams from the finals with grants of cash, software, training, consulting and other support to bring their Imagine Cup project from the campus into the real world.

We've already seen a number of Imagine Cup projects have real-world impact. A great example is Team GINA from the Czech Republic who were a finalist in last year's competition in Poland and created a system using smart phones to help emergency workers coordinate and deliver aid to where it's needed. They didn't win, but based on their belief in their idea, they created a company and their system was deployed in the aftermath of Japan's recent earthquake and tsunami.

These students and their innovation can have real-world impact.

We are incredibly excited with this new commitment. We are looking forward to working with the students and helping some of the teams to take the next step, bringing the benefits of their imagination to local communities and having real social impact.

Watch this space.