Part 007 gadget master, part nerd, part financier. In-Q-Tel is most commonly known as the venture capital arm of the CIA. Its name comes from a mashup of the word “intelligence” and “Q,” 007’s supplier of gadgets and technology.
In-Q-Tel’s business model is simple: it seeks to help the U.S. intelligence community, through the CIA, keep pace with the private sector in discovering unique technological advancements that serve to find intelligence solutions. More specifically, it looks for enhanced innovation, earlier discovery of relevant technologies, and more direct information on market developments . While In-Q-Tel’s business model shares many similarities with traditional venture capital firms, it differs in important ways. Its primary objective isn’t to maximize return on investment. Rather, it aims to accelerate pseudo-developed technology into businesses that deliver fully useable products to the CIA and, later, the broader market. Consequently, In-Q-Tel rigorously diligences potential portfolio companies to meet CIA objectives, while providing a more in-depth relationship with its portfolio companies through intellectual and financial capital, while also offering the CIA as a beta tester to those companies.
While the original purpose of the firm was to supply the CIA with technological solutions, In-Q-Tel strives to do so with products supported by the competitive marketplace, not government funding.  This important distinction ensures that portfolio companies are left to the same commercial pressures as any other Silicon Valley darling, undergoing intense scrutiny and continuous development. Palantir, a Big Data analytics firm, is an example of one such investment. Originally founded in 2004, with the CIA as its first client, Palantir has now expanded its client base to include many notable commercial firms.
In-Q-Tel’s operational structure is key to delivering on its business model:
- Funding: Like all venture capital and investment funds, capital is In-Q-Tel’s lifeblood. While most venture capital firms seek outside investment from limited partners (LPs), In-Q-Tel receives its funding directly from the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, to the tune of approximately $37 million annually. Although relatively small compared to the mega VC funds of Sand Hill Rd, the cash flows are likely to be much more certain each year, and come from one “client”, the CIA, potentially providing more flexibility than a standard VC would see.
- Inherent partnership with the CIA: In-Q-Tel is set up as a distinct corporation and is legally independent of the CIA. Its relationship with the Agency is a contractual one. Having a direct association with the CIA gives In-Q-Tel the guaranteed benefit of having a sophisticated client that dictates what it wants and needs, information In-Q-Tel uses to find solutions to those problems. While other firms in the space spend considerable time and resources anticipating what consumers want, In-Q-Tel has the luxury of dedicating resources to searching for direct solutions.
- Not-for-profit structure: In-Q-Tel is set up as a nonprofit that funnels any profits it makes on its investments back into the organization. The setup allows the firm to concentrate on its primary objective of delivering technological solutions over maximizing profit. Despite the not-for-profit designation, employees are still compensated from their stake in the portfolio company, aligning interests, while keeping pay far above typical government salaries, which helps attract talent.
- Board of Trustees: Guided by the board of trustees, In-Q-Tel creates strategic partnerships with leaders in their respective fields. This includes professors from top engineering schools, partners from top venture capital firms, and lawyers from the best law firms. The confluence of unique perspectives across different, yet relevant, industries, provides insight into different industries and can even lead to potential coinvestments on large deals with other firms.
In-Q-Tel has led to many new solutions. While there remain several questions about the firm’s future viability (e.g., below VC industry average pay, which may lead to a brain drain), the U.S. intelligence community, as well as private corporations and users have continued to praise In-Q-Tel’s role in bridging a gap in technology.
 http://www.bens.org/document.doc?id=42 “Report of the Independent Panel on the CIA In-Q-Tel Venture” p. viii
 http://www.bens.org/document.doc?id=42 “Report of the Independent Panel on the CIA In-Q-Tel Venture” p. ix
 http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1739&context=njilb “In-Q-Tel: The Central Intelligence Agency as Venture Capitalist” p. 696
 http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1739&context=njilb “In-Q-Tel: The Central Intelligence Agency as Venture Capitalist” p. 697
 http://www.bens.org/document.doc?id=42 “Report of the Independent Panel on the CIA In-Q-Tel Venture” p. xvi
 http://www.bens.org/document.doc?id=42 “Report of the Independent Panel on the CIA In-Q-Tel Venture” p. 21
 http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1739&context=njilb “In-Q-Tel: The Central Intelligence Agency as Venture Capitalist” p. 698