My Experience in the Microsoft Firenze Competition
In the Fall, Microsoft organized an event at a half dozen universities called Firenze BXT (Business, user eXperience, Technology). Each university is given a theme, and the students are tasked with finding an innovative business solution on that theme to present to Microsoft. The winning team from each university earns a trip to Microsoft’s HQ in Redmond, WA to compete for a very large (literally) $20,000 check. My team won the NYU portion of the competition this year and flew out to Microsoft for the finals.
Here are some of my thoughts about my experience:
Each team is made up of students from the school’s engineering, technology and design departments, which was the big draw for me. As much as I love ITP, I wanted to have an opportunity to work with people that approached similar problems from different disciplines. After a semi-awkward mixer organized by NYU’s student representative for the competition (where I had to buy my own beer!), we divided into our teams. Mine included one student from Stern (business) and two students from NYU Poly (the engineering school NYU acquired with a campus in Brooklyn).
At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to participate. One of the rules of the competition stipulates that you can’t talk about your project submission, your design or what transpires at Microsoft should you get to attend. That set off all sorts of red lights for me. I wasn’t sure as a design student what the value of participating would be if I couldn’t include my design work in my portfolio, I couldn’t talk (specifically) about what I did, or about the experience.
Typical Microsoft, right?
So far, yeah. Our team really didn’t start to work on our idea until Winter Break, and by that time we were spread out between New York, San Francisco, Shanghai and Rome. But I think we all really liked the direction we were going and so we pushed forward. Right before we returned from break, we submitted our presentation and found out shortly thereafter that we were one of the two finalists for NYU! Woo hoo!
Back in NYC, we rehearsed our presentation for a day or two until we felt confident that we could communicate our idea clearly to the judges. It was a bit unnerving presenting to Microsoft as we did, but I can’t discuss that. We then found out that our team won! We were going to represent NYU in Redmond! This was very exciting.
[NOTE: I'm going to skip the drama here that is part of working with a team, but suffice it to say that only two team members were available to travel to the competition]
Up until this point, Firenze had frankly been a headache. I felt that I had done all of this design work that no one would ever see, my team that had once been enthusiastic and inspirational had lost its drive, and I was flying out to Seattle on a weekend that I could have really used to focus on my public facing ITP projects.
Now as I said before, Microsoft doesn’t want us talking about what takes place during the competition finals. However, THEY can talk about it. So here’s a short video the organizers put together showcasing the weekend’s events:
That’s right, it was awesome. When all was said and done, that was one of the most memorable weekends from this semester.
- I met really cool like-minded people from other universities.
- I was able to showcase my strengths in a fast-paced simulated team building exercise.
- I had access to some really inspirational mentors at Microsoft.
- Some Microsoft employees expressed interest in having me join their teams.
I left the weekend with a totally different view of Microsoft. It’s a side of the company I wish they were able to more openly reveal to the public. Furthermore, the mentors from that weekend have been incredibly open to answering questions about business and startup processes as well as connecting me with other people in the community ever since.
So despite some of the challenges that my team faced and my initial reservations, participating in the Firenze competition was eye-opening and incredibly rewarding. I really encourage students to participate next year. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.