Silicon Valley Venture Firm In-Q-Tel: Venture Fund to the CIA

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Next time you use that iPad or iPhone, give a silent thanks to In-Q-Tel (pronounced “in q tel” or “incutel”, the CIA-run venture capital fund that has been integral in many technologies commonly used today, such as the touch screen. In-Q-tel, also responsible for investing in what was the beginnings of the technology that became Google Earth, began in the late 90s and was born out of the CIA’s need to manage their huge mountain of data. The idea behind it was to tap top civilian resources to be able to bring much-needed technology to the CIA, as fast as possible.

While it was initially planned to be weaned off of taxpayer dollars and become self-sufficient, that plan never panned out, and today it receives over $56 million in government support, annually. And with over $170 million in assets, In-Q-Tel is a big player in investing. In addition to being a major contributor to the technologies that spawned the touch screen and Google Earth, Inqtel has also been integral in funding the development of other technologies that sound like they were taken straight from James Bond or Mission Impossible, including a two-way radio that can be hidden in the mouth and 3-D glasses that generate holographic images. They also backed a security firm with the technology to identify suspicious online behavior, the data from which is now sold to federal customers.

While it may seem unusual to have a venture capital firm that is funded by government dollars, the idea is not without its merits. Since the intent behind it’s inception was to provide the CIA with quick and constant technology development, they knew that their best shot was to tap the high-tech community. Commercial products tend to be more successfully supported, and better developed, and it also allows the CIA to draw the best developers by having flexibility to pay competitive wages. With the need for the most talented developers comes the need to pay salaries that compete with those of the private-sector. In-q-tel’s own CEO earns about $1 million per year.

But with these million dollar paydays comes outstanding technology creation that is then used to keep CIA technology progressive. It is, in a sense, granting one of the US Government’s most important agencies access to the best that the technological community has to offer, without all of the delay-causing red tape that accompanies positions within government agencies. The CIA managed to find a way around the usual obstacles, and grow a successful venture capital firm that has funded jaw-dropping technology.

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If you find this sort of thing interesting, you can read more about In Q Tel by visiting their website at http://www.iqt.org/.

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