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Microsoft today announced the start of the third annual Imagine Cup in Reading, UK. The challenge involves teams of students from around the world competing against each other to win a share of the $215,000 total prize fund and the chance to kick-start careers in various fields including software design, film-making, business planning and computer game design.

The entry period will end on 1 March 2005, and the results will be judged after finals held in Yokohama, Japan at the end of July 2005.

Andrew Grieve, a member of the UK team in the finals of the 2004 Imagine Cup, said: "The Imagine Cup provides the platform to meet similarly-minded people from all over the world, who share a passion and interest in creativity and technology. Being an Imagine Cup participant is an amazing achievement to have on your CV and is very impressive for prospective employers."

The competition has been expanded since the last outing to nine different categories. These are mainly for university students, but three of the categories contain an age classification for secondary-level students. This is the first time the contest has admitted students of secondary school age.

The most important aspect of the contest is the Software Design invitational, in which students must create software that "dissolves the boundaries between us", meaning using software to solve real-life problems, on the Microsoft .NET Framework and Microsoft Windows platform. This challenge carries a $50,000 prize.

Other categories include a Short Film Invitational, a Technology Business Plan Invitational, an Office Designer Invitational, an Algorithm Invitational, a Rendering Invitational, an IT Invitational, a Visual Gaming Invitational and a Web Development Invitational. Of these, the last three are available to secondary level students, and all allow university students to compete. ®

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