Joshua Feast arrived in the U.S. from New Zealand in 2005. He wanted to attend business school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and start a company. He did both. His main product at Boston-based Cogito (pronounced Co-jee-tow) analyzes customer service calls in real time for health care companies. 

There was a lot of really cool technology at MIT. But I was in a neuroscience seminar taught by Dr. Carl Marci, and he discussed how computers could determine a person's emotional state based on speech patterns. I thought, My God, this is incredible!

When we launched Cogito in 2007, we had studies showing that the technology could work. But that data wasn't nearly enough. So we worked with clients to analyze hundreds of thousands of hours of customer service calls. We examined 80 million behavioral data points to extract the signals that mattered most.

We started with a health care focus, since our system could detect signs of stress and depression, but our customers wanted us to improve their call-center interactions while they were happening. Now our flagship product has a real-time dashboard measuring dynamic variations in voices, rate of speech, whether there's good participation and flow, and signs of vocal strain. Our clients have seen an 8 percent gain in customer retention.

Down the road, what if we could know when somebody felt lonely and needed a call? What if we could tell you, given your confidence level, the best time to call for a job interview? Whatever it is, our main priority is to help people. We don't want to just create another widget.

As told to Inc. contributing writer Ryan Underwood.