I had a very cool day today.
I had lunch at the White House with the Associate General Counsel to the President who is married to my wife’s cousin; she is world-class. We ate in the “mess hall” in the West Wing. I passed by Vice President Joe Biden (and his entourage) heading off to what looked like an important meeting – but they are all probably important. At a table nearby I saw Secretary Larry Summers eating with Alan Greenspan – would love to have listened in on that conversation. Across the room was the new Cyber Security Czar – Howard Schmidt. And I learned that I share one important thing in common with our President – his favorite candy is also M&M’s – and in fact I was given Presidential M&M’s in their own Presidential boxes.
There are over 500 people who work in the White House – and you get the sense that they are all extremely talented and committed to seeing good things happen to our country. Everyone could not have been nicer as I walked the halls with my eyes wide open, shaking my head. I even walked past the “Situation Room.” And while it was not quite a scene out of “24” the security was impressive and the place just seemed to work.
Equally thrilling was my morning today. I met with the Deputy Director of the Department of Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); this is where really important new defense technologies are conceived and funded. The agency manages a $3 billion annual budget and has only 200 employees. I was somewhat taken aback when I arrived as all of my electronic devices were checked at the door – other than when I am asleep, I have not been separated that long from a network. I must say it was probably my most productive four hours.
DARPA was created during the Eisenhower administration and reports to the Secretary of Defense. You are very glad these guys are on our side. I was there to learn how VC’s might better work with agencies like DARPA. One of our investment themes at Flybridge Capital Partners concerns the physical security sector and centers of excellence like DARPA spin-out many novel technologies which could possibly go on to become great start-up’s. My understanding is that DARPA receives over a 1,000 proposals annually so has great “deal flow.” Check out its web site for a better sense of the agency’s priorities.
Interestingly a major focus now is better understanding the power of social networks and how they may inform and influence behaviors of our armed forces. The Deputy Director shared a story about a mobile app called “Trapster” which allows drivers to flag speed traps on highways real-time to alert fellow speedsters. Well, turns out this same type of application is being used in hostile regions by insurgents to flag check points and the location of our troops real time.
It is often easy for us to criticize the government but visits like these today always leave me proud of the people who work on our behalf and softens the blow a little bit when I pay my taxes.