On Wednesday 15 November I was lucky enough to attend the hotly anticipated launch of the Web Science Institute’s Z21 Start-up Fund. Whispers of this mythical fund have floated around floors 3 and 4 of Building 32 for a while now, and when I was asked to attend the launch event I couldn’t wait to find out more about it.
Ironically this launch took place in Building 53, away from the Web Science Institute, but this did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm as I climbed up the stairs to the top floor. As with all WSI events, the room was abuzz with excited conversation and many big names. I recognised undergraduates, Ph.D. students, staff from FutureWorlds and many more. Taking my name badge and a bottle of water I was very excited for the event to begin.
It was kicked off by Tom Barnett, who introduced himself, his company and the fund. He explained how it had been in the pipeline for many years, and how it had been a passion of all those involved to harness the creative and intellectual power of the Web Science Institute. Once Tom had completed his introduction, Anne-Marie Mountifield from the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership spoke about her desire to see how the fund could bring difference business to the area, and represent a departure from the ventures usually backed by the partnership. It was really interesting to hear what the partnership does, and why they got involved. After Anne-Marie, it was the turn of Ben Clark of FutureWorlds to talk about his role offering support and mentoring to the projects. FutureWorlds are the on-campus incubator and have a huge range of support available. After Ben, a beta project, AuraVision, spoke about their business. This was really inspiring, and the project they have underway looks seriously cool – if nothing else I will be fascinated to see how this turns out!
Dame Wendy Hall wrapped up the event, talking about her background in business (which is actually very extensive!) and her recent AI review. It was brilliant to see her sign-post a recent statement from the Prime Minister about how the UK is striving to become a leading digital nation, something chiming nicely with the aims of Z21.
For me, the whole launch was incredibly exciting and has inspired me to apply for my own project funding. However, arguably the most interesting fact was learning about the name! Z21 stands for Zero to One, the book by Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal amongst other things – this really was a myth debunked so thanks to Tom Barnett for that!