9 digital technology start-ups innovating around the world

16 Jan 2020

Image: © dima_sidelnikov

This week, we’re looking at some digital technology pioneers shaking up their industries – from a quantum computing start-up to a microsatellite manufacturer.

The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Technology Pioneers list featured 13 digital technology firms that are set to make waves in their respective industries.

This included a quantum computing company that’s giving Google and IBM a run for their money, a mobile mesh networking company hoping to lead advancements towards universal connectivity, and many other innovations.

Here, we’ve chosen 9 start-ups from that list to keep your eye on in the year to come.

Rigetti Computing

Rigetti Computing was founded in 2013 by Chad Rigetti. The company focuses on developing quantum integrated circuits for quantum computers, as well as a cloud platform called Forest that enables programmers to write quantum applications.

The full-stack quantum computing company has been described as the “quantum computer factory that’s taking on Google and IBM” by Wired, was named one of MIT Technology Review’s 50 smartest companies of 2017, and is recognised as one of the leaders in the quantum computing space by X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis.

To date, the company has raised approximately $119.5m, from investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Y Combinator and Vy Capital.


Cloud collaboration start-up Airtable was founded by Howie Liu, Andrew Ofstad and Emmett Nicholas in 2012. The San Francisco-based company began with the aim of developing a spreadsheet-database hybrid.

With a desktop and mobile app, Airtable allows people to create their own custom applications, regardless of their technical experience, which can be shared and synced with others for instant collaboration.

Since the start-up was founded, it has raised $170m with investment from CRV, Caffeinated Capital, Benchmark, Coatue Management and Thrive Capital. Airtable has been used by millions of people, including companies such as Boiler Room, Time magazine, Atlantic Records, Netflix and HubSpot.

Descartes Labs

Descartes Labs spun out from the US energy department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in 2014. Launched by Adam Smith, Mark Johnson, Mark Mathis, Mike Warren, Rick Chartrand, Steven Brumby and Tim Kelton, the business is building a ‘data refinery for satellite imagery’.

The company does this by using computer vision, machine learning and a cloud-based infrastructure to teach computers to see and understand the world around them. The technology was first used to develop an agricultural model to analyse corn and soy production in the US, but the founders quickly realised that the technology could be applied to many more use cases around the globe.

The company has now created an enterprise data refinery that enables organisations to model natural resources and entire value chains, in order to predict changes. To date, Descartes Labs has raised $58m, according to Crunchbase. The company is headquartered in Sante Fe but has opened offices in New York City, Los Alamos and San Francisco.


Eureka is a Singapore-based artificial intelligence platform led by Benjamin Soemartopo. Founded in 2016, the start-up powers partnerships between mobile operators and enterprises in a wide variety of industries, including banking, insurance, transport and market research.

The company uses AI to unlock the unique data that telecoms companies hold, and enables the monetisation of this data through products that deliver insights, risk scoring and customer engagement. With 850m subscribers, Eureka is currently being used by mobile operators in south-east Asia, India, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.


Mobile mesh networking company GoTenna is developing programmable mobile infrastructure with the aim of advancing universal access to connectivity. The New York-based start-up was founded in 2012 by Daniela Perdomo and Jorge Perdomo.

The company’s mesh network enables communication even when mobile networks, Wi-Fi and satellites are unavailable. GoTenna recognised that while mesh networks have been around for decades, most businesses in the mesh network industry prioritise high bitrate over range.

The start-up has developed a low-capacity network that can be used in off-grid environments, supporting peer-to-peer connectivity in a cost-effective manner that consumes power efficiently and is easy to use.

Investors in the business include Walden Venture Capital, Union Square Ventures and the Founders Fund. According to Crunchbase, GoTenna has raised $40m to date.


Founded in 2014 as a spin-out of Aalto University’s Radio Science and Engineering department, Iceye is a Polish and Finnish microsatellite manufacturer that aims to retrieve actionable information about every square metre on Earth, every single hour.

The company’s technology can be used to help clients resolve challenges in sectors such as maritime, disaster management, insurance, finance, security and intelligence. The company was co-founded by Pekka Laurila and Rafal Modrzewski, who began their project as students in 2012.

Now headquartered in Espoo, Finland, the business has raised $65m according to Crunchbase, with investments from Business Finland, True Ventures, Seraphim Capital and DNX Ventures. The company has launched a number of satellites into orbit since it was founded, with its most recent launch in July 2019.

Luminance Technologies

Luminance Technologies is an AI platform based in London, which helps lawyers around the world to dig deeper into their data by providing them with insight and clarity across their contracts.

Founded in 2014, Luminance has developed a pattern-recognition technology that can read, understand and learn from the interactions lawyers have with their documents, pinpointing warning signs that could be missed during a manual review.

The company’s technology was developed at the University of Cambridge. Led by CEO Emily Foges, its platform is now used in more than 40 countries and the start-up has offices in London, Cambridge, New York, Chicago and Singapore. According to Crunchbase, Luminance Technologies has raised $23m.

Marinus Analytics

Co-founded by Cara Jones and Emily Kennedy, Marinus Analytics is a Pennsylvania-based start-up that focuses on using machine learning and data mining for social good. Jones and Kennedy set up the business in 2014 out of the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute.

Marinus Analytics uses its AI solution to help law enforcement, government bodies and the private sector to identify and combat criminal activity, whether that’s by stopping people from selling drugs online or fighting against human trafficking.

More recently, the company has been exploring ways in which it can use data and AI to address social services challenges and the opioid epidemic in the US.

One Concern

The main goal of One Concern is to save lives and livelihoods before, during and after natural disasters. The company does this by combining physical science with AI to quantify impact and map critical dependencies of natural disasters, with the aim of increasing the resilience of companies and communities around the globe.

One Concern’s platform can be used by insurance companies to make risk calculation more precise, or by governments to help them prepare, respond and mitigate the impact of natural disasters. Commercially, it can be used to identify hidden risks to business through multi-hazard analysis of critical infrastructure, and it can also be used to expose hidden risks and disclose them to shareholders.

One Concern co-founded by Ahmad Wani, Nicole Hu and Tim Frank, after CEO Wani was marooned during the catastrophic 2014 Kashmir flood for seven days. Together, the team channelled their talents into applying data science and machine learning to natural disasters and the climate crisis.

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Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic