Today, as technology increasingly impacts business practice, even traditional sectors from real estate to retail have been revolutionized and reimagined through the use of big data and advanced analytics. Startling innovations driven by machine learning and generative artificial intelligence have the capacity to ever improve themselves, opening the gates for constant growth. With technological advances such as these steamrolling ahead, many say what we’re seeing today is only a fraction of what will be possible tomorrow.

“If you look across the last several decades, we’ve seen exponential growth in available computing power, in data generated, and in the power of software tools to manage and analyze this data. The use of data and AI to make decisions and drive efficiencies will be ubiquitous across all enterprises very quickly,” says Jake Reynolds ’97, general partner at TCV, who recently made a transformative gift to help establish the School’s Digital Future Initiative.

Reynolds has been investing in tech ventures for three decades, and calls the digital revolution “an unstoppable wave that’s going to continue to grow and be more powerful with time.”

To leverage this digital wave, leaders and managers across all spheres need critical thinking skills and a well-honed ability to understand statistics and synthesize data. “Being able to understand operations, understand the data across the business, and manage inventory— many people don’t have these skills,” says Ryan Petersen ’08, founder of Flexport. “It’s a crucial part of what business schools teach.”

It’s certainly a part of what Columbia Business School teaches. Countless CBS alumni are leading companies that harness cutting-edge data analytics to measurably increase operational efficiency, uniquely personalize customer service, and, in some cases, disrupt industries entirely. According to Allon Bloch ’97, the co-founder and CEO of K Health, “Running companies over the years, I’ve come to believe that half-measures and incremental solutions aren’t going to work in healthcare. We have to use the power of data to rebuild a better system.”

Sortile CEO Constanza Gomez ’22 decided to help build one of the first systems for recycling textiles using AI-driven automation and data. Eighty thousand dollars in grants and a strong nudge from a fellow student who became her co-founding partner helped Gomez launch the venture. “I would have never started this if it wasn’t for CBS,” she says.

Lorena Puica ’15, founder and CEO of syd, likewise formed a new company using AI power and big data. Her all-in-one life quality platform, syd, serves as a personalized resource for preventative healthcare practices. And while syd’s success in improving quality of life and increasing productivity is measurable, Puica says tech-driven improvements in healthcare are still nascent, particularly when it comes to equal access and opportunity. If society doesn’t “have a clear understanding of what equity truly is,” Puica says, “the machines we build will have even less clarity.”

The bar is high, but under Dean Costis Maglaras, CBS is leading the way toward balanced solutions. Last year, the School launched the Digital Future Initiative, which unites students, business leaders, policymakers, and hundreds of faculty across disciplines in the discussion of technology’s disruptive impact on society.

Non-traditional, disruptive tech startups—these are the kinds of companies CBS alumni have been launching lately. In the following stories, we profile alumni introducing novel ideas and building entirely new disruptive businesses based on explosive data-driven technologies.

Jake Reynolds ’97

Jake Reynolds ’97, general partner, TCV

Tech Innovation Is ‘Mind-Blowing’ and ‘Not Well Understood’

Jake Reynolds has been investing in tech start ups for 30 years, specializing in the enterprise and software-as-a-service sector. Still, he says, “my mind is blown every day” by the power of data and the boundary-breaking ideas for new products and services that aspiring entrepreneurs bring to the table seeking capital. “Every day I see how digitization and AI are exploding the potential of what we can imagine.”

He sees unlimited potential for what generative AI will bring to enterprise software and all aspects of business. “ChatGPT and all the emerging generative AI tools and models are just the beginning,” he says. Soon, “you won’t even talk about AI being embedded; it will just be assumed.”

While business is racing to capitalize on the power of data, Reynolds notes, society at large is scrambling to make sense of how this latest wave of technology will change our lives. “The impact of the digitalization of business is not very well understood in economics, in policy, or in traditional macroeconomic measurements and models,” he adds. “And the pace of change is happening much, much faster than our ability to understand and adapt.”

The challenge for higher education, and business schools specifically, is to merge the best thinking in sociology, psychology, and other fields to understand this massive change. It’s “a big task and a difficult thing to do, but it’s a vital thing for us as a society,” Reynolds says. “And we don’t have a lot of time to navel gaze or ponder. We need to act now.”

Ryan Petersen ’08, founder, Flexport

Ryan Petersen ’08, founder, Flexport

A Window into Every Link of the Supply Chain

Ryan Petersen started his career 20 years ago importing and selling motorcycles and motor sports gear on the internet. He soon found the pain point: getting the products on a ship, through customs, and safely into the country.

Out of that pain grew Flexport, a company with the mission of “making global trade easy for everyone,” Petersen says. “It’s so hard to wrangle data out of your supply chain” to optimize inventory, understand costs, cut waste and reduce carbon emissions, and master the intricacies of customs. “Even the biggest companies in the world struggle with this.”

Flexport’s answer provides radical transparency with software that gives importers a “single pane of glass” to see the status of all of their orders placed in factories and shipments moving around the world, to book freight by any mode of transport, and know when it will be delivered. “It works because we have connected all the parties in the chain,” he adds. The platform includes software for manufacturers; trucking, air, and  ocean freight companies; warehouse managers; and government agencies controlling customs. The Flexport platform powers the company’s global freight forwarding and customs brokerage business, which has propelled Flexport into the top 10 for global freight providers from Asia to the United States, one of the busiest trade lanes in the world. 

An added benefit of Flexport’s rich data on transport is that client companies get solid information on their carbon emissions that is otherwise hard to come by, helping them meet sustainability goals.

Building Flexport was a huge effort to integrate so much data and so many players. “Being very, very ambitious was kind of our secret,” Petersen notes. But if they only tried to fix one part of the puzzle, “I’m not convinced you add enough value to really be a viable business.”

Flexport, valued at around $8 billion, is more than viable, and the firm uses its good fortune to help those in need. Through its global impact arm,, the venture offers logistical expertise to international humanitarian relief and rescue organizations, matching corporate donations to needs and making sure critical supplies get to where they need to be with less waste. Flexport provides these services at cost, with companies that donate goods with transparency gaining a terrific return on their philanthropic investments.

For instance, since the start of the war in Ukraine, has shipped over 13 million pounds of aid to 8 million Ukrainians in need, including hospital beds, medical and surgical equipment, ambulances and clinics, firefighter equipment, hygiene kits, blankets, and food supplies.

“I’m really proud of that. We’re fortunate that our core capacity—moving cargo all over the world and using data to make sure it gets where it needs to go—benefits humanity,” he says.

Allon Bloch ’97, co-founder and CEO, K Health

Allon Bloch ’97, co-founder and CEO, K Health

AI Enters the Chat . . . with Your Doctor

Allon Bloch believed that using artificial intelligence to harness the power of clinical data could dramatically improve healthcare. So he built K Health, a simple system that provides access to doctors and pharmacies in the palm of your hand. K Health provides fast, affordable, on-demand text-based doctor visits and prescriptions available 24/7 from your phone. Driving the system is a vast database of detailed, anonymized medical records for millions of patients.

A team of mathematicians, doctors, and software engineers used machine learning to train an AI application to mimic the process of differential diagnosis that every doctor uses. Then they recruited highly qualified medical professionals to provide virtual visits while tapping into this powerful data source.

K Health improves on online symptom checkers and now-common telehealth visits by allowing both physicians and patients to tap into a vast pool of detailed symptoms and clinical outcomes for “people like me,” matched on age, gender, and pre-existing conditions. During these virtual visits, K Health’s AI-powered personal assistant “stays in the conversation,” drawing on deep knowledge and clinical outcomes no doctor can access and synthesize in real time.

The system strips away the inconvenience of a trip to the doctor’s office, the pricey premiums, confusing copays, the opaque rules of health insurance, and much of the massive bureaucracy of healthcare.

“Our claim is simple. We think that using data technology and building the right approach using AI, you can create a much better health system from a medical quality perspective at a lower cost,” says Bloch, K Health’s CEO and co-founder.

“Medicine is a deeply human profession; it’s also deeply complex. But the system we built didn’t learn from one doctor; it learned from thousands of doctors,” Bloch says.

“Using data to find a new way of doing things to change medicine and healthcare is no small undertaking. I think this is something I wouldn’t have done 10 years ago. But I’m a little older now; I’ve been a CEO for 16 years and was part of a team that built two public companies from scratch, and that gave me the confidence to tackle something that is near to my heart—and something that mattered.”

Constanza Gomez ’22, co-founder and CEO, Sortile

Constanza Gomez ’22, co-founder and CEO, Sortile

Saving the Planet with Data Analytics 

Constanza Gomez remembers with laser clarity the moment that sparked her passion for textile recycling. While working as a researcher in the financial industry analyzing the impact of a law governing how firms in Chile classified obsolete inventory, she stumbled across a stunning unintended consequence. To get unsold garments off their books, retailers would throw them out—“hundreds and thousands of pieces of clothing that had never been worn, in pristine condition, all going to a landfill, all due to a small change in accounting rules. I couldn’t believe it,” she recalls, still sounding appalled.

At the time, there was no recycling infrastructure for textiles. “I kind of went down a rabbit hole and started reading up to find out why this problem existed. It became kind of an obsession.”

Agustina Mir, MPA ’21, whom Gomez met in Columbia Business School’s multidisciplinary Think Bigger course, encouraged her to engineer a solution. Together, they founded Sortile, a company that makes textile recycling financially viable with AI-driven automation and data. They developed and marketed a small device that accurately analyzes the fiber content of clothing, reducing the need for label reading and hand sorting. 

Sortile collects data on everything sorted and sells software that analyzes the data, allowing waste processors to track their output and productivity and predict the volume of fiber they can sell. Without this data, which helps supply a consistent stream of clean quality fibers, recyclers can’t recover their costs.

“This is a space where data basically doesn’t exist,” says Gomez, “and because it doesn’t, the possibilities of what we can do with data in this space are pretty much endless.” For example, Sortile did a waste characterization study for a fashion brand and found out that at least 50 percent of clothing thrown out could have been recycled. “Just the monetary value of not putting that in a landfill—forget about potentially reselling—could be massive.”

An accidental entrepreneur who never intended to start her own business, Gomez says the analytical skills and long hours of her experience in finance were useful. Still, there were daunting things she’d never done and some that she’s still learning. “I’m so grateful to CBS. There are thousands of things I’ve learned, through classes, professors, summer programming, and access to mentors who had experience. There was just so much support and so many people to bounce ideas off. One of the things I learned was to just talk to people; ask for help. Don’t be scared to put yourself out there. You’d be surprised by the number of people who genuinely want to help you.”

Lorena Puica ’15, founder and CEO, syd

Lorena Puica ’15, founder and CEO, syd

Improving the Quality of Life for a Billion People

Lorena Puica swore to herself that she would never start a business. In her late 20s, she had an almost literal change of heart when she was diagnosed with a combination of cardiac and thyroid problems. 

Doctors told her she had three years to live if she did not strictly follow prescribed treatments. Puica wasn’t buying it. A naturally analytical investment manager, she dove into medical research, built a spreadsheet, ran a sophisticated comparison of the findings, and found a way to manage her own condition—and proved the doctors wrong by becoming a world record-holding extreme athlete.

Along the way, she realized everyone around her had similar stories of struggling to get answers and effective treatment for their conditions. “That got me thinking of building something, if only so people didn’t have to go through what I did,” she recalls.

“I started to look more seriously into what was wrong with our healthcare system and learned that globally, we had an $8 trillion problem. That’s what gets thrown away on treating preventable conditions with little gain in quality of life, all because we don’t have the right information and support.”

Her solution was syd, an AI-powered preventive precision health platform, built on rigorous analysis of more than a million academic studies on health, genetics, and wellness. Using a “virtual companion” called, people can tap into this data to understand their own biology and behavior and take control of their own life quality in a simple, effective, and measurable way. 

Puica sells the system to employers who recognize that healthy, happy, productive employees are key to the health of the company. Employers get a dashboard with feedback human resource managers can use to assess the impact of their efforts to support their workforce and optimize performance. Privacy is strictly protected. The dashboard illuminates trends in measures like stress levels, retention, and productivity, with information on collective circumstances that are driving the trends.

Puica thinks big. Her goal is to improve the quality of life for a billion people around the planet. (“Investors tossed me out of the room when I told them that,” she recalls with a laugh.) Because prevention is the goal, syd’s approach is holistic, encompassing nine dimensions of life quality: physical, emotional, and financial health, brain power, purpose, self-awareness, career, social life, and environment. Even small changes in one of these realms impacts others, Puica maintains.

So far, the venture has members in 26 countries and its Life Quality Index—the metric the syd team built to measure impact—shows a 20 percent increase in individuals’ life quality, a 23 percent increase in productivity, and a 15 percent increase in employee retention.

Puica says that technology driving improvements in healthcare—particularly in genetics and AI—has a long way to go before delivering on its promise. But her greatest lesson in her unplanned journey as a tech entrepreneur is that “it’s all about people.” Ultimately, her dream is that all this technology and automation will “bring us a better understanding of what it means to be human and how we can nurture human potential.”