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Connecting Tech Entrepreneurs to DoD's Cyber Battle


A new public-private partnership in northern Virginia is encouraging entrepreneurs to target the Pentagon's growing investments in cybersecurity, among other federal spending, for possible start-up opportunities.

The venture, known as Tandem NSI, is a partnership between Arlington Economic Development and Amplifier Ventures Partners LP, a venture capital firm based in McLean, Va. The partnership started with about $525,000 in public funds, including $350,000 from the Commonwealth of Virginia and $175,000 from Arlington County, according to Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.

"There is a big macro trend available to us in this economy," Jonathan Aberman, managing director of Amplifier Ventures, said Tuesday evening at a reception in Arlington kicking off the partnership. "Make no mistake, national-security innovation is the driver of what makes the United States an industrial powerhouse."

The Defense Department’s spending on so-called cyberspace operations is slated to jump 21 percent to $4.7 billion in fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1. Across the federal government, President Barack Obama requested more than $13 billion for such programs. That amounts to about 16 percent of the government’s $82 billion information-technology budget.

"This town needs and must have access to entrepreneurs -- the people that are so crazy stupid to think that they can change the world with $5 and a pizza and a bunch of Red Bull," Aberman said. "What this crazy vision is about is how do we get entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial performers to throw themselves into this challenging opportunity."

Aneesh Chopra, who served in the Obama administration as the nation's first chief technology officer and who last year sought the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor of Virginia, said the 2012 JOBS Act will help tech start-ups in Arlington and other communities by allowing crowd-funding and easing other regulations.

"Turnaround is the story of a place like Pittsburgh, which today has seen an incredible amount of growth because they commercialized federal R&D in robotics and health care technologies to build a new foundation for growth," he said. "Arlington isn't a struggling turnaround story. But it is the gateway to a new chapter of all kinds of entrepreneurial activity."

Moran, who last month announced plans to retire after more than two decades in Congress, said the public-private partnership is all the more important after Arlington lost its bid to house the National Science Foundation's new headquarters to neighboring Alexandria.

The NSF move, scheduled to occur in 2017, is "going to spur Arlington to be way ahead of the rest of the country in terms of attracting research and development opportunities," Moran said. "The federal government puts $140 billion every year into research and development -- and that doesn't even include a number of other programs."

Les Aker, a longtime cryptologist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory who now runs his own consulting firm, Gondolin Inc., said he was optimistic that the Washington, D.C., region will be able to compete against Silicon Valley for business opportunities in the national-security sector.

"I look around the room and I see a bunch of people that I know who have started successful businesses in information technology and cybersecurity," he said.

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