Palestinian students imagine the future as they immerse themselves in Silicon Valley

By Amintas Lopes Neto, Microsoft Middle East and Africa Technical Audience Business Lead

“Microsoft Imagine Cup is not just about winning, it’s about the experience,” said Hassan Bakr, one of the members of this year’s winning Pan-Arab team when I caught up with him recently. I couldn’t have said it better myself of Microsoft YouthSpark’s global student technology competition. While the team did not go on to win at the Imagine Cup World Finals, they have recently returned from a world-class acceleration experience in San Francisco.


The Palestian team from Birzeit University shone in the Pan-Arab Imagine Cup semi-finals with their project, ‘Brain Controlled Robot’ (BCR). They are able to control the robot through their thoughts alone, by making use of the way the brain sends signals to control movement. This project has so much potential to be successful beyond the competition. In fact, the team’s intention is to provide solutions for people who, for example, need assistance controlling wheelchairs independently through thought.

So I think it was particularly beneficial that the team members – Muhammed Atiq, Ayham Jaradat and Hassan Bakr – along with their supervisor, Wasel Ghanem, were awarded a week-long immersion program by our partner, TechWadi. As our Programe Manager at TechWadi, Christina Ashtary, says, “BCR’s technology is impressive, and the experience the team had here in Silicon Valley provided exposure to the entrepreneurial opportunities that exist with unique technology like theirs.”

You can view the highlights of their trip here, but the focus of their time in San Francisco was for them to attend various mentoring and training sessions with Silicon Valley’s leading tech players. They visited Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and Microsoft Ventures. Then there were the sessions with three local accelerators: Nest GSV Labs, 500 Startups and Plug and Play Tech Center, where they also had the opportunity to present their project to senior investment partners for feedback. To top it off, they received financial training and learned how to refine their pitching skills from top Silicon Valley startup coaches, all while soaking up the US culture.

I think team member, Ayham Jaradat, summed it up well when he told me that the trip really changed the teams’ lives – by showing them that things like knowing how to run a business, marketing, financial analysis, where to get money and investment, and how to scale – is just as important as developing the technology itself.

This really supports our idea that the Imagine Cup is not all about winning. The team has gained important skills and experience to not only give them a competitive advantage in the workplace, but also to use their innovation to make a difference and play a role in moving emerging markets forward. We will be continuing to monitor their progress as they put their newly discovered skills and knowledge to use.

As Hassan Bakr says, “If you have big dreams, Imagine Cup is the place to start.”

Get all the Imagine Cup updates and sign up for the 2016 competition at

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