Over the last few years, the misleading and unethical ways that companies use consumer data has come under fire. As a result, regulators are starting to move toward ensuring that data is collected and shared in a transparent, consent-based way, with the country’s strictest data privacy law now in effect in California.
But many startups and well-established corporations are also using cleverly captured data sets in a way that doesn’t violate privacy—to answer more questions about our world and make business more efficient, from assessing hog health in China to anticipating dangers on construction sites to predicting weather down to the city block. These are the honorees on this year’s Most Innovative Companies Data Science list.
For getting cities on the right track to support cyclists and runners
Strava is a fitness social network that allows runners, cyclists, and other athletes to upload and share workout statistics and routes with each other. But it also has the world’s largest anonymous, aggregated, and active transportation data set, which it’s using to make cities more pleasant places to run and cycle. At the end of 2019, Strava updated its Metro tool so local governments could discover the most popular bike and walking commuter routes without coding or analytics. London, Helsinki, and several U.S states’ departments of transportation use Metro to help them improve existing transport infrastructure, such as identifying where bike racks would encourage more ridership. At the same time, Strava rolled out new premium subscription services to help its 50 million users achieve more tailored goals, such as reaching a training milestone, analyzing specific health data, or staying safe (by sharing their real-time location with a select group of people).
Read more about why Strava is one of the Most Innovative Companies of 2020.
For scripting a new future for turning books into hit movies
Wattpad hosts stories from 4 million self-published readers and uses machine learning to help its 80 million monthly readers to find something that suits their tastes. In 2019, Wattpad used the data from its vast catalog to identify which stories might be most successful as physical books. Its Wattpad Books imprint has now published tales such as the teen drama I’m a Gay Wizard and the Afrofuturist romance Given. But its data ambitions aren’t limited to finding hits in print: Wattpad is also going after the big screen with Wattpad Studios, which produced After, one of 2019’s highest-grossing indie films.
Read more about why Wattpad is one of the Most Innovative Companies of 2020.
For sensing a new way to measure hyperlocal weather, down to the city block
ClimaCell is aiming to change the way cities think about weather by predicting temperature, precipitation, humidity, visibility, and even lightning strikes for areas as small as a city block. Its microweather forecasting product, called HyperCast, combines data from cell towers, street cameras, connected vehicles, and internet-of-things devices with NOAA radar data to get weather predictions that are far more granular than other forecasting services offer. In 2018, ClimaCell’s snowfall models were piloted by several North American cities, and a few Indian municipalities are testing its flood alert system. It is also used by airlines such as Delta and JetBlue, stadiums, and trucking and construction companies. And for the everyday consumer? ClimaCell’s app claims to be able to tell you when to start shoveling your driveway during a snowstorm.
4. Moda Operandi
For empowering fashion designers with trend insights before production
In an era of online shopping, Moda Operandi provides access to hot designer looks through its online marketplace of luxury fashion, accessories, and home decor. In 2019, the startup started to use data about which items were most popular in its online “Trunkshows,” where shoppers can preorder the latest fashions they’ve seen on the runway for a limited time, to decide which items to stock for its website. The company found that popular Trunkshow items tend to sell 10 times more on Moda Operandi than less coveted items. Since it started using Trunkshow data to inform inventory, the company has been able to increase the sell-through rate on those items by 100%. To top it off, in January 2020 the company raised $100 million in funding, a mix of equity and debt, from the likes of NEA and Apax Partners, which both previously invested in the startup.
For converting 150 million construction issues into better site safety and quality
In February 2019, the manufacturing software giant Autodesk launched Construction IQ, a software program that can predict risks and dangers in construction projects. By analyzing data such as observations, checklists, subcontractor assignments, and historical data from across Autodesk’s construction management platform, Construction IQ can detect where a fatal injury might occur, or where a contractor may be wasting materials. The algorithm was trained using more than 150 million data points gleaned from nearly 30,000 real projects. Now, the company says that 200 general contractors are using Construction IQ to make their projects safer and more efficient.
6. Duality Technologies
For cracking the code on analyzing data even when it’s encrypted
Despite fears over privacy, data collection is only increasing. But Duality Technologies promises a new way of analyzing data while it is still encrypted, completely preserving the privacy and security of a data set while also helping businesses learn from its patterns. The startup’s SecurePlus platform, which it launched in fall 2019, uses a technique called homomorphic encryption that was previously buried in academic papers. With MIT cryptography guru and Turing Prize winner Shafi Goldwasser as one of its cofounders, Duality is poised to create what could be a new gold standard for data analytics that keeps data private while still allowing businesses to glean essential insights from it.
7. JD Digits
For going hog wild into Chinese agribusiness by measuring pigs’ weight, feed intake, and happiness
At the end of 2018, China’s digital consultancy JD Digits got into the agriculture business by taking on a big problem for the country’s hog farms: keeping millions of animals as healthy as possible. In a pilot program at the Jingqishen hog farm, JD Digits installed indoor sensors and cameras that keep an eye on the animals and assess their living environment. Then it analyzed the data, using facial recognition to monitor each animal’s weight, food intake, and temperature to make sure that the hogs are eating the right amount and aren’t getting sick. A voice-recognition algorithm also identifies if piglets are squealing from hunger or if they’re getting crushed by sows (an unfortunate occurrence which the company says kills 1 in 10 piglets). The company reports that the system reduces labor costs by more than 30% and feed costs by 8% to 10% and can reduce the cost of raising a pig by up to $11.50. In the summer of 2019, the Jingqishen hog farm started delivering pork raised using this smart monitoring system to grocery stores in Beijing, and now the technology is being implemented on hog farms across five Chinese provinces that manage about 20 million pigs.
For rewriting the rules of business communication by suggesting what to write as you write
In April 2019, the writing automation platform Textio launched Textio Flow, a tool that acts almost like Google’s autocomplete email feature, but for business writing. As you write, the tool suggests sentences and even paragraphs that align with a company’s voice. To do this, Textio’s algorithms analyze all of the text used in company communications such as job descriptions and marketing materials to produce new sentences and descriptions that match or mimic past writings in tone and content. The company’s products have become so popular that now 24% of the Fortune 100 are using Textio.
For figuring out how employees want job flexibility
Werk is an analytics platform that companies use to understand what kind of flexibility employees want and need to stay productive and happy in their jobs, whether that’s the ability to time-shift a schedule to avoid commute traffic or to work from home once or twice a week. Werk’s algorithms combine external research as well as a proprietary data set of nearly 1 million data points to help businesses predict what kinds of flexibility their workforce needs to improve productivity. Werk, which originally launched as a job board for flexible jobs before launching its people analytics system, has worked with companies such as Banco Santander, Warner Music, and LOLA.
For putting influencers to work booking open hotel rooms
Travel influencers are a particularly pernicious form of influencer, especially for hotels—is it really worth giving someone a free stay just so they’ll promote you on Instagram? Curacity aims to answer this question and help hotels reduce the number of unused hotel rooms. Its Influencer Measurement for Instagram tool, which launched in 2019, uses predictive analytics to help hotels understand which influencers would be a good fit for their brands and then measures how an influencer’s posts directly lead to bookings for the hotel. The platform uses data from a hotel’s property management system and from Curacity’s partner influencers to match people who engaged with influencers’ content with those who actually booked a room. The company now works with 200 four- and five-star hotels and has seen its revenue grow 500% from 2018 to 2019.
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