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The CIA’s VC Arm is Investing in This Local Big Data Startup
September 9, 2016 News


In-Q-Tel will provide Zoomdata’s data visualization to the U.S. intelligence community


The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies process a lot of data, more numbers than anyone but an expert can easily decipher. Reston-based startup Zoomdata and its data visualization tools will now be there for help, via an investment of unknown size by In-Q-Tel, the venture capitalist facet of the country’s intelligence community.

“I think of it like there’s the 1 percent who understand data leaving the 99 percent behind who don’t,” Zoomdata CEO and founder Justin Langseth told me in an interview. “What we do brings everyone along in being able to use data analytics.”

Zoomdata is built around the idea of making everyone a big data expert by using software that can combine real-time and historical data streams to turn raw numbers into images useful even to non-mathematicians. Private companies and federal agencies have signed up with Zoomdata since it launched in 2012, but it’s been on even more of a hot streak this year.Goldman Sachs all but threw $25 million at the company in February, slightly more than doubling its funding to that point. Since then, Zoomdata has rapidly added to its team and client list, opening a Silicon Valley office in June for a new avenue for growing both In-Q-Tel, and the agencies it represents, have had access to Zoomdata for the last month on their reserved Amazon Web Services Marketplace. Now, In-Q-Tel is working with Zoomdata to improve its products and start applying them beyond AWS to GovCloud and C2S while offering federal pricing. Major contractors Northrop Grumman, Deloitte and Unisys will also connect to Zoomdata for development and delivery services to In-Q-Tel.

There’s a lot of potential in Zoomdata for intelligence agencies. The analysts who have to formulate plans and policies aren’t necessarily data and statistics experts, but intelligence agents, administrators and politicians have a vital need to understand the the torrent of information collected non-stop. Transforming that information into an image any decision makers can grasp quickly would speed up the process. That’s why the investment also includes a new and improved partnership between In-Q-Tel and Zoomdata.

In-Q-Tel very rarely does media interviews, but in a statement, In-Q-Tel investments partner Brian Smith praised the way Zoomdata can adapt to combine many kinds of data. The investment and partnership will improve security and the platform’s ability to scale, helping the “government agencies more effective in gaining actionable insights faster from historical information as well as streaming, real-time data sources.”

This is far from the first investment made by In-Q-Tel in a promising tech startup since it was founded in 1999. What’s interesting beyond how it will use Zoomdata’s platform is the relative openness that it is doing so. The fact that it was one of the investors in Skincential Sciences was entirely unknown until a report from the Intercept in April. On the other hand, investing in the creator of a skincare product that happens to double as a neat way to collect DNA and biomarkers has some differences from using Zoomdata to better visualize data.

Just how much Zoomdata will be used by the intelligence community remains to be seen. Still, if even a few of the departments using the analytics tools created by contractor juggernaut Palantir augment or even switch entirely to using Zoomdata, the potential growth might need to be laid out by Zoomdata’s own technology to be properly understood.

“We started later than the big wave of settled tech from 10 to 20 years ago,” Langseth said. “That means we could start from scratch. Older tools haven’t gotten around to updating and adapters are the lowest common denominator if it works at all.”

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