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Web Science Institute

Z21 Innovation Funded projects, latest successes

Published: 7 October 2021

Web-based start-ups are changing the world with online innovations revolutionising the way we shop, travel and socialise. The WSI-founded Z21 Innovation Fund is driving innovation into the real world by helping University start-ups get off the ground.

In collaboration with the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), we have invested £1m into 14 proof of concept projects which had the potential to be accelerated into new businesses and create jobs in the Solent region. Successful projects received acceleration support from Future Worlds including entrepreneurial mentoring, start-up video production and access to the Future Worlds’ Accelerator Space.

Here we share some of the successes:


BOON is an award-winning start-up that uses psychology research to design and create interactive online shopping assistants. Many shoppers get frustrated, lost or bored with the seemingly endless choice available to them online – they want to have the same engaging and personal experience that they receive in-store. BOON, developed by Southampton graduates Dylan Grey and Mike Oakley, creates engaging and fun digital shopping assistants, letting retailers offer an experience that is personal to each shopper. An AI-powered shopping assistant is added to a retailer’s online store, which takes users through a set of questions before using powerful filtering and bespoke AI to select the most compelling products from across the retailer’s catalogue.

Dylan said: “The financial backing from Z21 helped us build our product faster, get access to excellent support and explore various go-to-market strategies. Hundreds of thousands of our clients' customers have now used BOON to help them discover great products for themselves or a gift recipient.”


TopMD is the world’s first pathway biomarkers platform that is revolutionising healthcare. It was created by a team of Southampton scientists and mathematicians to dramatically improve precision and accuracy of disease diagnosis by using topology to allow the high resolution investigation of the molecular mechanisms underlying disease, enabling the development of targeted treatments for application in precision medicine. In collaboration with the University, scientists at TopMD are leading the molecular phenotyping in an €11m EU-funded, three-year DRAGON project for COVID-19 advanced diagnostics.

James said: “The Z21 fund accelerated the birth of TopMD. It allowed the development of the technology to a marketable product to demonstrate to customers, raising private investment and securing grant funding.”


Nucleolus is a knowledge-driven independent studio that specialises in building interactive experiences based on the research of UK’s top academics.

The collaboration, including Southampton’s Professor Joerg Fliege develops fun and educational projects by combining the team’s interdisciplinary skills of art, design, development and academic knowledge. They have developed the co-operative multi-player game Avian that has collaboration, conservation and altruism at its core. The team aimed to present a new way of playing with an emphasis on healing, diplomacy and real-world problem-solving, sparking conversations about these topics through gameplay.

Joerg said: “Z21 provided our team with an ideal opportunity to develop a theoretical idea straight into a viable product prototype. Equally important to the financial support were the opportunities for deep strategic discussions with experienced mentors -an invaluable resource.”

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