Founders: Stephen Cohen, Nathan Gettings, Alexander Karp (CEO), Joe Lonsdale, Peter Thiel
Date launched: 2004
Funding: $896.2 million
Industries disrupted: Defense, Enterprise Technology, Software
Disrupting: Amazon, IBM, Oracle
Competition: i2, MongoDB, Skybox Imaging
How's this for a client list: the FBI, the NSA and the CIA. Indeed, these agencies as well as other U.S. counterterrorism and military outfits all look to Palantir Technologies to mine massive data sets for intelligence and law-enforcement applications. The company's software can take wildly disparate mounds of data and elegantly transform it into maps, charts and other forms of intelligence that mere mortals can actually understand.
Employees—otherwise known as "forward-deployed engineers"—can wend their way through a client's data and then clearly spell out potential trouble, whether that means terrorism, financial fraud or human trafficking. Palantir's advisors include folks who know a thing or two about security: Condoleezza Rice and former CIA director George Tenet. In fact, the CIA's venture arm—In-Q-Tel—was an early investor, pumping $2 million into the firm as it was getting off the ground.
Read MoreFULL LIST: 2014 DISRUPTOR 50
Naturally, talk of an IPO follows the company as closely as security guards trail CEO Alexander Karp. (He's gotten death threats since Palantir was rumored to be involved in the killing of Osama bin Laden.) If the company were to go public—something it hasn't ruled out—Karp is on track to join Silicon Valley's billionaires' club.
On the company's disruptive impact:
"We only do it because the mission is really cool. ... It's basically very simple. ... We tell people you can help save the world."