“What I learned at Rutgers contributed to my success so far and will continue to contribute to my success in the future.” –Thomas Sessa
Husband and wife entrepreneurs Thomas (BS, Electrical and Computer Engineering ’06) and Dayna Sessa (BS, Biomedical Engineering ’06) are the brains behind Datanomy, their Manhattan-based health analytics firm, that helps hospitals and health organizations make better decisions by unlocking actionable insights from big data. CEO Dayna founded the firm in 2011, recruiting Thomas from Goldman Sachs the following year to serve as the company’s CIO. Datanomy’s recent honors include recognition by the New York City Mayor’s Office, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, and the Tory Burch Foundation.
Why did you choose Rutgers School of Engineering?
Thomas: Rutgers gave me the opportunity to get an Ivy League education at the cost of a state university. I was the first in my family to go to college and paid my own way through Rutgers.
Dayna: I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was interested in architecture and even biophysics. Engineering seemed less limiting and covered interesting things that I wanted to touch on. Of course, little did I know that the industry I’d go into hadn’t been created yet.
How did you meet?
Dayna: We met freshman year. We were among the few freshmen taking an engineering economics class.
Thomas: Dayna and I spent time together, with me trying to seek her out. We’d eat together, take long walks, and discuss the meaning of life.
Dayna: There were so few women in engineering, he had to take a shot when he could get it!
Thomas: One of my first entrepreneurial efforts was Rutgers Roses. In February I asked Dayna if she’d help me sell some roses.
Dayna: This was his way of trying to court me. He promised me a few dozen roses, but I wondered why I had to work for them! I helped him sell many dozens of roses.
Thomas: When Valentine’s Day rolled around. I forgot to give her roses and didn’t take her out. I didn’t know she was interested. Over the next few months, I showed interest, she rebuffed me. But during finals week, we had our first kiss. We’ve been together ever since—and married in 2008.
What did you do after graduation?
Thomas: I started working as a technology analyst at Goldman Sachs right after graduation. I left on my 6-year anniversary to join Dayna at Datanomy.
Dayna: I worked for a while with a small, now defunct, management consulting firm. I also worked as the COO of a consumer products company and realized I hated consumer products.
How did you come to start Datanomy?
Dayna: I had my quarter-life crisis and realized I wanted ownership and to have skin in the game, and to work for something I was more passionate about. It’s not a fluid story—although it looks great in hindsight.
Obamacare was beginning to push hospitals to keeping electronic medical records. I realized that there were opportunities here.
It’s been an interesting ride. We’re a small business, but we’re growing. We’re getting phone calls from people who want to learn more. It’s a nice place to be.
Do you serve hospitals and health organizations nationwide or regionally?
Dayna: We’re regional right now, but are open to national. We like to roll up our sleeves and become our clients’ partners. So, in that respect, it’s helpful to be somewhat local. Our vision for reaching a national market is to develop more products, rather than focus on services.
Have your roles changed at all?
Thomas: In May 2015, our first child—our daughter Madeleine—was born, which has changed Dayna’s role a bit.
Dayna: A CEO of a small company can do anything. Having our daughter made me shake a lot of the latent “founderitis” our company had, where I was more involved in minutia than I should have been. I’m now more focused on strategy, partnerships, and building out our product and our team. I like to say that I’m building what Datanomy will look like in two to three years.
Do you enjoy working together?
Thomas: A resounding yes! What drew us together first as friends and now as partners in life is our views of the world and approaches that complement each other. I’m detailed and checklist-oriented. Dayna has the big ideas and drives strategy. We like to say we have the two sides of one brain.
Did any particular professors influence you?
Dayna: I wasn’t the most engaged student. Thomas was the opposite. A total nerd, he was first in his Electrical Engineering class. I was a bohemian engineering student, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Professor Evangelia Micheli-Tzanakov was a strong and supportive figure who not only encouraged and pushed me academically, but also empowered and strengthened me during this transitional time.
Thomas: Physics professor John Conway taught me to think like an engineer and break problems down like an engineer. Engineering professor Chris Rose taught me how passionate someone could be about a topic you love. And the late David Daut refined my education as my thesis class advisor.
What was the most valuable thing you learned at Rutgers?
Dayna: Engineering isn’t about specific skills, calculations or algorithms. It’s an inherent way of problem solving, of thinking critically through a series of events to reach a cohesive story.
Thomas: What I learned at Rutgers contributed to my success so far and will continue to contribute to my success in the future. Critical thinking is the most important thing–it’s about knowing how to take knowledge and break it down into components that explain a story.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your student self?
Dayna: Life is long. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Thomas: Appreciate and respect the process. Don’t be in such a rush to pursue career and life endeavors. Go back and take a deep breath.
What do you do in your free time these days?
Thomas: We’re relatively efficient. Our dinners are business meetings. We spend time with our daughter. We enjoy film festivals and independent films. We love to travel and have been to 5 continents. I’d like to convince Dayna that we could put our daughter on a plane for 20 hours and go to Australia.
So if you could take a vacation tomorrow, other than Australia, where would you go?
Thomas: Cuba, though I’d love to go back to Cape Town.
What about volunteering?
Thomas: We like to donate our time and give back in a number of ways. Along with serving on several boards, Dayna and I started the Porvenir Fund in 2009. Its purpose is to bring STEM education to underprivileged kids, so children can see that their dreams of becoming scientists, engineers, and doctors are possible. We’ve always wanted to leave the world a little better than we found it, and having our daughter has only strengthened this desire.