Taking advantage of commercially available technology is nothing new for the Defense Department--it's been on a decade-long crusade to do so--but getting its hand into the venture-capital game is. The National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the Defense agency that provides imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial intelligence for national security purposes, has signed an agreement for new technology procurement with two research and development companies, SRI International and its subsidiary, Sarnoff Corp., that could reach as high as $200 million.
The new venture, Rosettex Technology & Ventures Group in Rosslyn, Va., will work with 64 partners, from analyst firm KPMG to university labs to defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman Corp. Rosettex has set up a 10-year, $50 million investment fund to seed new ventures of interest to the military. "There's not a huge commercial market for armor for tanks, but if we can come up with a better compression algorithm for compression video that could become a commercial product, the government could buy it off the shelf and use it," says Mark Lister, managing director of the new venture. Rosettex will concentrate on three areas: imagery and geographic information systems; digital processing, analysis, and management; and digital technology infrastructure.
Lister concedes it's a little late in the VC game, but insists the pool of annual investment money is still significant: "Thirty billion dollars is $30 billion. I don't know anyone who would ignore $30 billion."