In-Q-Tel taps Darby

In-Q-Tel has selected Christopher Darby, an executive from Intel, and the former CEO of an Internet security startup, capping a year of top-level turnover. The venture firm, which counts the CIA and other national intelligence organizations as limited partners, lost two CEOs and a managing partner over the last year, starting with the resignation of CEO Gilman Louie in January. His successor, Amit Yoran, left in May to spend more time with his family. Then, in July, Managing Partner Mark Frantz, who had been offered the job of interim CEO, left to join Redshift Ventures.

In each case, the defection was at least partially precipitated by conflicts between In-Q-Tel management, board trustees and limited partners.

“Nobody over there can really agree on what In-Q-Tel is supposed to be,” says a source familiar with the situation. “It still has great potential and a legitimate reason for being, but cannot reach its potential until more people get on the same page.”

Darby comes to In-Q-Tel from Intel, where he was a general manager of the chip giant’s Middleware Products Division. His biggest brush with security issues came as CEO of @stake, an Internet security consulting firm that was sold to Symantec in September, 2004.

Darby will have to accept that the trustees not only have decision-making power, but that those decisions often view return-on-investment as a distant concern. The board generally insists that deals be done with In-Q-Tel as a minority player alongside a syndicate of top-tier firms, and that strategic value to the intelligence community trumps a company’s financial prognosis. It’s a similar model that was employed by Intel Capital, before that venture unit shifted to a more activist role.