For taking the guesswork out of injury prevention. Last season’s NFL, NBA, and NCAA football champions (along with the winners of 10 other NCAA titles and eight World Cup countries) all had one thing in common: They monitored their athletes’ health using Catapult. The company makes a variety of devices that turn physicality into data—measuring things like an athlete’s power and movement efficiency—which can be crunched to uncover vitally important information like whether an athlete is developing an injury, or whether certain workouts are overly stressful. That helps teams keep their players safe and game-ready—and last year, word spread rapidly. Sales grew by 64 percent, and Catapult now works with nearly half of NFL teams, a third of NBA teams, and 30 major college programs.
For making music out of the music industry’s data. The music industry has become a blur of Spotify streams, iTunes sales, SoundCloud plays, Facebook likes, Wikipedia page views, YouTube hits and Twitter mentions—but what does it all mean for an artist? Next Big Sound’s analytics explain which bands are about to break, which late night shows really impact an artist’s trajectory, and many, many other quandaries that for decades had been the exclusive domain of mercurial executives and their so-called "golden ears." It saw years into the future and predicted that acts like Iggy Azalea, A$AP Rocky, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis would blow up. NBS has partnered with Spotify to allow its 500,000+ artists to see the data being collected on them, so that they can employ if for their own purposes. In May 2014, NBS launched Next Big Book to unleash its analytics on the book publishing industry, and this summer, the company won patent approval for its "likelihood of success" algorithm. It's also recently begun working with companies like Pepsi and American Express to help steer the $1 billion plus that is being spent each year by brands on music-related marketing and sponsorships.
For putting cops in the cloud. This cloud-based records management and analytics system is helping to make policing smarter, more efficient, and more accountable. Its web app makes it easier and faster for cops to enter arrest and incident reports, reducing a process that can take several hours on decades-old legacy systems to about 30 minutes. Mark43 then adds a layer of algorithmic intelligence, connecting data such as social-media activity and phone records (obtained via warrant) to those police reports to give even patrol cops a more complete picture of a criminal or a syndicate. Mark43 is already in use by Los Angeles County Gang Units and soon will be officially deployed across an entire major metropolitan department. "If we can change the way they collect data," says Scott Crouch, Mark43 CEO and cofounder, "we can change the way police work is done."
For making the content it knows (with data!) we’ll all love. The entertainment company spent 2014 giving unexpected gifts to devoted groups of fans. Among them, it announced it bought the global rights to Better Call Saul, AMC’s prequel to Breaking Bad; the production of a kung-fu sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend; and four new Adam Sandler films. But these aren’t the slapdash granting of fanboy wishes. Netflix, having drawn in millions of users with its high-quality original programming, is now using its trove of data and analytics about international viewing habits to create and buy programming that it knows will be embraced by large, ready-made audiences. "We are creating a product that really does appeal to the local tastes in each of the more than 50 countries we operate in," says chief content officer Ted Sarandos. "And it turns out that the local taste is pretty global."
For making big data beautiful. There’s nothing beauty enthusiasts enjoy more than sharing why they love certain products (just look at the success of Youtube star Michelle Phan), and that’s where beauty startup Poshly comes in. The website allows users to enter giveaway contests for coveted items like MAC lipstick, Beats headphones, and high-end perfumes in exchange for information on their beauty routines. In turn, Poshly sells its valuable (and now anonymized) aggregated user data to brands like L’Oréal and Unilever, who very rarely get such detailed insight into exactly what consumers are looking for in their beauty products. And, so far, the the New York-based beauty platform has been a hit, with more than 60 percent of users returning to the site on a monthly basis and $1.5 million in VC funding.
For sharing its software with just about everyone. Ayasdi is a software company that rapidly analyzes large amounts of data by transforming it into images, and was initially funded by the U.S. Department of Defense agency DARPA. But it has since moved away from its military origins, and last year it partnered with diverse players including Intel, as part of a broader alliance program. With SumAll.org (#10 on this list), Ayasdi is working to accelerate the development of lifesaving social and health care programs in developing countries; to do so, it is taking on data projects such as analyzing the impact of childhood polio vaccination in Syria. And it won the NFL’s Head Health Challenge award—a collaboration between the league, GE, and Under Armour—by developing entirely new ways to visualize and diagnose brain injuries.
For making Watson work for us all. IBM’s sales are down, early 2015 brought layoffs, and Big Blue is shifting focus. But it already has a promising start on what it says is a new foray into widely accessible data analytics and cloud computing. Watson was famously the first computer to compete on Jeopardy, and then went on to many business-focused applications. But during last year’s SXSW, Watson was doing something very different: whipping up recipes for a food truck, based on its analysis of how to make the very best versions of what consumers requested. It was the prelude to December’s beta launch of Watson Analytics, a freemium service that can accept, organize, and analyze large amounts of data. It’s made for people who aren’t data scientists; the system understands written commands in plain English, rather than wonky terminology. Early reviews are positive. And Watson can still be a chef, too: In Canada, reports are that it makes a hell of a poutine.
For helping GE work at the speed of light. Partnerships can be invaluable when it comes to getting a leg up. Just ask Frost Data Capital, a startup that recently paired up with industry giant General Electric to form a venture capital fund and incubator for big data startups. The new partnership will produce 10 startups a year over the course of three years, meaning 30 new startups backed by GE’s business acumen and wealth of resources will debut by 2017. Meanwhile, GE will benefit from working with the agile Frost, which has a history of launching one startup per month. That's a blistering pace for GE, but par for the course in Silicon Valley, and the partnership is sure to set a precedence for big companies looking to work with plucky upstarts. Call it tech world symbiosis.
For creatively using data to make businesses’ (and even some moms’) lives easier. Revenue at the real-time data-processing system Splunk grew 48% year-over-year by the end of 2014, but its more compelling story is told in how clients used Splunk last year. Coca Cola was able to identify sales spikes at college campus vending machines during Walking Dead episodes, highlighting an unexpected marketing opportunity. The Royal Flying Doctor Service, which delivers medicine in rural Australia, used Splunk to monitor refrigeration during flight, ensuring that vaccines remained safe. And after a panicked mom called one university (which Splunk won’t name) to say she hadn’t heard from her kid in two weeks, the school used Splunk to find security camera footage of the kid at the school library—thereby confirming the student’s safety—and then contacted the kid to say, "Hey, call your mom."
For helping businesses make sense of their many streams. If you’re a marketer or small business, it’s easy to see how you’re doing on Twitter. There are analytics for that. Same with your newsletters on MailChimp. And so on. But no business actually runs on one or two services—and that’s why there’s SumAll, a tool that draws in more than 60 different streams of data, including Google Ads, Fitbit, and Zendesk. And the company keeps adding more. In September, for example, it partnered with Square so that its users can measure sales data against many other factors. "Merchants can use that insight to understand what's impacting payments and transaction volume," says Scott Pollack, SumAll's head of business development. And the more services it connects to, the more broadly useful it is. To date, SumAll is used by 350,000 businesses.