In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s Investment Arm, Quietly Backing Seventh Sense Biosystems

8/5/10

Few people know that In-Q-Tel, the nonprofit investment arm of the U.S. intelligence community, has a stake in the Cambridge, MA-based startup Seventh Sense Biosystems. Neither In-Q-Tel nor Seventh Sense has ever publicized their relationship, which came to Xconomy’s attention recently.

Arlington, VA-based In-Q-Tel—which invests in lots of startups with technologies that could aid the mission of the CIA and other U.S. security and defense agencies—was a silent participant in Seventh Sense’s $4.75 million Series A funding round back in 2008, company co-founder and CEO Doug Levinson said. Levinson declined to say why the CIA’s venture arm is backing his firm, which is developing a device that can be worn on the skin like an adhesive bandage and painlessly draws blood samples for use in medical diagnoses. He says he’s bound by an agreement with In-Q-Tel that only allows him to say that the group has invested in his company.

Simon Davidson, the partner at In-Q-Tel’s Waltham, MA, office that led the group’s investment in Seventh Sense, also wouldn’t say anything about the investment. He deferred comment to Lisa Bader, his group’s manager of external affairs, who replied to my inquiry via e-mail to say that In-Q-Tel would not discuss the terms of its investments. But she did confirm that the group made a “strategic investment” in Seventh Sense in July 2008. Some of the group’s better-known investments in the Boston area were made in BBN Technologies (now part of Raytheon), QD Vision, and Spotfire (now part of Tibco Software).

Seventh Sense has previously disclosed that its venture investors include Cambridge-based Flagship Ventures, Polaris Venture Partners of Waltham, and Boston’s Third Rock Ventures. Seventh Sense’s Levinson is also a partner at Flagship, where the startup was formed to fulfill his vision of making monitoring a person’s health as simple as looking at a car’s “check engine” light. For the past several years, Levinson has focused on starting companies that improve people’s ability to deliver sophisticated diagnostic results outside of traditional laboratories.

In fact, In-Q-Tel invested in Levinson’s previous diagnostics company, … Next Page »

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