The CIA’s recently departed chief technology officer, Gus Hunt, is moving into venture capital.
Hunt is joining investment firm Artis Ventures as an advisor, VentureBeat has exclusively learned.
San Francisco-based Artis Ventures has invested in YouTube and Practice Fusion, among others, and describes itself as a “long-term” partner to entrepreneurs.
In his new role at Artis, Hunt will advise young companies in their quest to win lucrative federal contracts.
“I’m taking my understanding of the intelligence space and scouting out the opportunities,” he said.
Hunt will both mentor and invest in startups, particularly those that can help intelligence agencies deal with a vast store of information. Hunt is keenly interested in cloud computing (during his tenure at the CIA, the agency committed to a $600 million, 10-year deal with Amazon for cloud services) analytics, big data, and potentially even wearable technologies.
But a check from Hunt won’t necessarily put you on the fast track to the CIA. Hunt is in a cooling period with the agency, meaning that he’ll take a step back from day-to-day operations. He’s also highly picky about backing new technology that will provide value to government agencies.
“My advice to most companies that approach me is to be successful commercially first before pursuing the federal intelligence market,” he said.
“These startups should have a steady revenue stream before they attempt the long and difficult pursuit of federal dollars.”
In previous interviews, Hunt has been far more guarded. But now that he’s working in the private sector, he spoke more freely about government, technology, and the future.
He perked up most on the topic of big data and new technology that can derive insights from a sea of information.
In a recent appearance at a technology conference, he referenced the failure to “connect the dots” when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber,” was able to board a plan with an explosive device despite warnings of his intentions. In that case, a White House review found that the CIA had all of the data it needed to identify the would-be bomber, but still failed to stop him.
“My view is that it’s the right time for a revolution in this space,” said Hunt.
“Data volumes are going to grow by orders of magnitude in the connected world. My concern is that the signal to noise ratio will only get worse unless big data can usher some improvements,” he added.
“The reality is that this big data trend is going to be exciting for a while to come.”
Wearable tech is another area of interest, although Hunt hints that it’s most useful for the military and law enforcement. As we reported earlier this month, the New York Police Department is beta testing Google Glass, and the U.S. Navy is also signing contracts for smartglasses.
Hunt hasn’t been resting on his laurels since leaving the agency. In November of 2013, he joined the private equity firm LLR Partners as an operating partner to evaluate later-stage opportunities in the security, defense, and government services sectors.
Hunt intends to meet with a steady stream of startups as he juggles commitments in both private equity and venture capital. “I want to learn and get engaged in other aspects of technology and business,” he said. After his cooling period, he plans to provide insights and knowledge to the CIA.
This isn’t Hunt’s first foray into tech startups. At the CIA, he made frequent trips to Silicon Valley to scout out new software. He likes to joke that the “T” in CTO stands for travel.
During one of these visits, he met with Amazon’s team, prompting the contract, and invested in a stealthy cloud computing startup called Bracket. We don’t know much yet about Bracket, beyond that it raised $10 million (according to an SEC filing) and its founder Tom Gillis was the vice president of Cisco’s Security Technology Group.
After a thirty year stint in government (Hunt joined the CIA in 1985) the startup world is a refreshing change. Hunt said he would even consider starting a company or joining an early-stage team, if the right idea struck. But for now, he’s planning to take a backseat, especially considering the fact that his wife recently started a business.
“One startup in the family is sufficient at this stage of the game,” he said.