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Winners of National Spelling Bee Contest Since 2008 Hails from India

The spelling and vocabulary contest known as the National Spelling Bee in the United States was inaugurated in 1925 with help of nine American newspapers

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national spelling bee
Co-champions of the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee, from left, Shruthika Padhy, Erin Howard, Rishik Gandhasri, Christopher Serrao, Saketh Sundar, Sohum Sukhatankar, Rohan Raja and Abhijay Kodali hold the trophy in Oxon Hill, Md., May 31, 2019. VOA

The spelling and vocabulary contest known as the National Spelling Bee in the United States was inaugurated in 1925 with help of nine American newspapers.

While the winning elementary and middle school students had family names of Neuhauser, Bell, Lucas, Robinson, Hogan, Jensen and Randall in the contest’s first years, beginning in the 1980s, children from South Asian immigrant families, particularly India, have started gaining a solid footing among champions.

national spelling bee
The eight co-champions of the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee celebrate their win in Oxon Hill, Md., May 31, 2019. VOA

In fact, from 2008 until 2018, winners of every single year’s spelling bee hail from families of Indian heritage.

This year, the southern state Alabama’s 14-year-old Erin Howard was the lone non-Indian American who won the prestigious championship along with seven other kids, aged 12 and 13, all of whom came from Indian American families.

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Erin Howard, 14, of Huntsville, Ala., gets excited after receiving her last word to spell as she competes in the finals of the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., May 30, 2019. VOA

While some have expressed concern that the contest appears to be dominated by Indian Americans, the competition’s organizers don’t seem to be troubled.

“We are proud of the diversity of our participants and are delighted with the success of Indian-American students in our program,” Paige P. Kimble, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, tells VOA.

Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Shalini Shankar, professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at Northwestern University, herself a native of Mumbai, India, points out that “spelling bees have become a vital part of the Indian American experience.”

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Naysa Modi, 12, from Frisco, Texas, types her word in the air while spelling correctly during the evening finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., May 31, 2018. VOA

Shankar credits “a confluence of factors” that include “feel-good documentaries that inspired future spellers, a culture invested in competitive spelling and parental investment in a child’s educational success” to the persisting phenomenon of Indian-American students’ domination of the national spelling bee contests in the last decade.

According to the Spelling Bee’s official website, 11 million students across America, from grades one to eight (aged seven to 15), participated in spelling bee contests this year, a majority (65%) of them enrolled in public schools. The southern state of Texas so far boasts the most champions.

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Caroline Kovacs, 10, of Hoboken, N.J., reacts as she spells out a word in the third round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, May 29, 2019, in Oxon Hill, Md. VOA

In addition to students who already live and study in the United States, Kimble says this year’s competition also had participants from Canada, Jamaica, Germany, The Bahamas, Ghana, Japan and South Korea.

Kimble tweeted that “the school bee winner is often the one who memorized a 450-word list. The regional winner is the one who memorized a 1500-word list; has broad knowledge of roots and patterns; and composure in applying knowledge to off-list words asked at the end of the bee.”

The Merriam-Webster unabridged online dictionary, “a dictionary of American English,” as Kimble puts it, serves as the official source where contest words are found.

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The Scripps National Spelling Bee trophy sits in front of competitors during the second round, May 28, 2019, in Oxon Hill, Md. VOA

Following its news report of the 2019 national competition that saw eight parallel winners, each bringing home a $50,000 cash prize (which they all reportedly indicated an interest in putting aside for their college education), The New York Times gave readers an opportunity to try out the paper’s own Spelling Bee contest, a step-up from the usual Crossword feature.

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Kimble, the executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a non-profit organization under The E. W. Scripps Company, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based media conglomerate, says there is also a yearly Bee in the nation’s capital between members of the press and members of congress. Winner of the 2018 contest was a journalist writing for The Washington Post. In 1913, when the first such Bee took place, Congressman Frank B. Willis from Ohio [who went on to become the state’s governor] beat participating scribes in that “most American of showdowns.” (VOA)

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Microsoft Ready to Help Indian Startups, Says President Anant Maheshwari

Microsoft is focused as much on selling third party solutions as their own, and this co-sell motion has helped generate $8 billion in revenue for partners within 18 months

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FILE - Microsoft Corp. signage is seen outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Washington, July 3, 2014. VOA

Armed with a cutting-edge technology platform, a well-established partner organisation and an expansion of M12 venture fund, Microsoft is ready to help Indian startups across the spectrum embrace the next phase of growth, Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India, said here on Monday.

India, which saw a tremendous growth in the startup space in the last couple of years, is now witnessing a growth in the business-to-business (B2B) tech startups coming up with innovative ideas to deal with local problems.

“With our intelligent tech expertise, deep focus on trust and unique global go to market partnering, we empower unicorns and startups to scale sustainably at a global level,” said Maheshwari.

“We remain excited about India’s entrepreneurial startup potential and will continue to accelerate it as a growth engine for the economy,” he added.

India witnessed a dramatic rise of eight unicorns in 2018 from among the start-ups across verticals as against a mere nine in six years from 2011 till 2017, according to IT industry apex body Nasscom.

The start-ups joining the select club for their valuation over $1 billion are Oyo Rooms (hospitality), Zomato and Swiggy (food delivery), Udaan (retailer marketplace), Byju’s, (edu-tech), Paytm Mall (e-tail), Freshworks (software programmer) and Policybazaar (digital insurance).

Maheshwari said Microsoft is uniquely positioned to support Indian startups to achieve scale and evolve from market ready to enterprise ready.

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A man walks past a Microsoft sign set up for the Microsoft BUILD conference at Moscone Center in San Francisco, April 28, 2015. VOA

The introduction of M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, in India in February is creating new value for startups, VCs and the company itself to maintain the pace and direction of innovation.

“M12 is looking at investing in innovators who have aligned their focus on cutting-edge technologies that better enable digital transformation. The portfolio development team at M12 is specifically built to help support and scale companies by leveraging the expansive resources of Microsoft,” said the company.

According to reports, venture capital investments in Indian tech business-to-business (B2B) start-ups have been trending upwards, with over $3.09 billion raised in equity funding across 415 deals in 2018 — 28 per cent more than $2.41 billion in 2017.

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Under the “Microsoft for Startups” initiative, startups can co-sell with Microsoft sales teams, get access to top tech VCs in the global arena and mentorship from industry veterans.

In less than 18 months, Microsoft for Startups has closed more than 120 co-sell deals with more than $126 million in active pipeline for startups.

Microsoft is focused as much on selling third party solutions as their own, and this co-sell motion has helped generate $8 billion in revenue for partners within 18 months. (IANS)