The 10 most innovative companies in data science

Aclima, Snowflake, Watchworthy, LeapAnalysis, and even Best Friends Animal Society showcase the power of amassing and harnessing data as a strategic weapon.


Data continues to be a competitive differentiator for companies, and the businesses that amass unique, often proprietary datasets are well poised to win A-list customers and succeed wildly. This year’s list of the most innovative companies in data science are from a wide array of disciplines, from climate analysis to streaming video recommendations to trucking. On top of that are the companies like Snowflake and LeapAnalysis helping businesses get the most from their own datasets.



For providing deeper understanding of pollution—one block at a time

Everybody knows that air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are huge problems for the world. What’s less obvious: They can vary wildly, even on a block-by-block basis. Aclima‘s sensors and cloud-based platform turn big data about air quality into hyperlocal insights that help governments, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders identify hot spots so they can take action. In 2019, the company began mapping and analyzing air quality across the 101 municipalities that make up the Bay Area, the first pan-region research project of its kind.



For letting businesses unlock the power of data, no matter what business they’re in

The defining fact about cloud-based data giant Snowflake is that any company can call on its tools for storing, analyzing, and acquiring data to tackle practically any business challenge. That point was never clearer than in 2020, when its customers used its platform to do everything from forecasting hospitalization rates during the COVID-19 pandemic to scaling up meal delivery services as in-restaurant dining became impossible. In September 2020, Wall Street rewarded the company by giving it the biggest IPO in software history.



For putting information to work, right where it already resides

Rather than requiring data to be moved into a warehouse or lake, LeapAnalysis‘s cloud virtualization technology allows companies to work with data right where it already is, no aggregation required. That dramatically expedites analysis efforts in areas such as drug discovery, disaster management, and analytics. For one LeapAnalysis customer in the pharmaceutical industry, avoiding the need to move data around slashed the time it took to conduct a research project from 11 days to three minutes.



For being an invaluable coach for one of the world’s toughest jobs: surgery

By analyzing over 30,000 hours of surgical videos, Theator has gained deep understanding of everything from gallbladder removal to hernia repairs. It applies this knowledge to feedback it gives surgeons and residents on their own procedures. In 2020, partnerships with organizations such as McGill University, Stanford University, and the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons helped bring Theator’s insights to thousands of surgeons and surgeons-in-training.



For being the Switzerland of streaming-video recommendation algorithms

Streaming-video behemoths such as Netflix will be happy to recommend stuff for you to watch—as long as you stay inside their services. By contrast, Watchworthy provides suggestions across more than 200 streamers, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Apple TV Plus, and many more. This comprehensive set of recommendations is powered by crowdsourced data collected by Watchworthy’s parent company, Ranker, which has collected more than a billion votes from TV fans over the past decade.



For turning mere mortals into data-science superheroes

To harness the power of the information your organization possesses, you could hire an army of data scientists. Or you could call on Alteryx to help employees across many disciplines make use of data—no scientific expertise required. Equipped with Alteryx’s tools, laypeople at customers such as Home Depot and Southwest Airlines have come up with clever new approaches to business challenges that have added millions to their bottom line.



For making thermometers smart, just when we needed it most

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, taking people’s temperature became a critical tool for identifying their health status. But rather than simply performing that task for individuals, Kinsa‘s smart thermometers power its AI-based U.S. HealthWeather map, which helps doctors and scientists identify COVID-19 hotspots early on. In 2020, five states and 10 cities worked with the company to distribute a half-million smart thermometers in areas at disproportionate risk.



For giving the world a way to manage risks of many kinds

GeoSure provides safety ratings for for 65,000 cities and neighborhoods around the world, using such factors as basic freedoms, health and medical, theft, and women’s and LGBTQ safety. It factors an array of data into its ratings, some of it crowdsourced from users via the company’s smartphone app. In January 2020, before most people understood the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, GeoSure’s algorithm accurately predicted the number of cases to come and identified cities such as Seattle as danger zones.



For keeping a watchful eye on fleet drivers

When fleet drivers such as truckers surrender to distractions behind the wheel, it makes the roads more dangerous for us all. Lytx‘s real-time video telematics and analytics use cloud-connected dashcams to detect risky behavior—from cell phone use to smoking—as it happens. In 2020, the company upgraded its platform with new AI and machine-learning technologies that identified phone use 133% more often. Behind the scenes, information collected from 120 billion miles of driving gives Lytx the big data it needs to train its algorithms to spot everything from lack of seatbelt use to incomplete stops.



For helping dogs and cats find their forever homes

At Best Friends Animal Society, the goal is straightforward: End the killing of dogs and cats in U.S. shelters by 2025. Understanding how to get there is hard. So the nonprofit built a dashboard that allows it to visualize year-over-year data from 5,000 shelters, identifying the areas that call for the most focus. By analyzing stats about Texas shelters, for instance, Best Friends helped Harris County—the state’s most populous county—achieve no-kill. Available to the public on the Best Friends website, the dashboard also inspired hundreds of people to engage in acts of pet advocacy in 2020.


A version of this article appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Fast Company magazine.




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