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The Pentagon Road to Venture Capital

For decades, national security personnel have moved from jobs at the Pentagon to positions at major military contractors. More recently, a growing number of senior Pentagon officials are leaving to take positions at venture capital or private equity firms that invest in a new generation of Silicon Valley-style defense tech startups.

The New York Times has identified at least two dozen venture capital, government contractor financing or private equity firms that are run by or have hired former Pentagon officials or retired military officers, with most of the hires having taken place in the last five years. They have also hired people with national security experience at the White House or other agencies.

The roster of people who have cycled out of government positions and into venture capital firms that are backing defense-oriented startups numbers at least 50, The Times found.

In many cases, these former national security officials continue to regularly interact with top Defense Department officials they used to work with, and with members of Congress.

Here is a look at some of the players hired as executives or advisers at these firms, and the year they left government service, based on information from the firms or PitchBook, a venture capital industry database.

Red Cell Partners: Mark Esper, former secretary of defense (2020); Paul Selva, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (2019); Yisroel Brumer, former deputy director, cost assessment and program evaluation, Defense Department (2020); Raquel Cruz Bono,retiredvice admiral (2019); William Lescher,retiredadmiral, former vice chief naval operations (2022); Gustave Perna, former commanding general of United States Army Materiel Command (2021). Defense-related investments: Defcon AI (military software), Epirus (counterdrone), Red 6 (military training), Reveal AI (intelligence gathering for frontline troops).

Mark T. Esper, a former defense secretary in the Trump administration, is a venture capitalist with Red Cell Partners.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York Times

Scout Ventures: Ryan McCarthy, former Army secretary (2021). Defense-related investments: Tomahawk Robotics (robotics and automation), Voyager Space (space stations), Lonestar (aerospace software), Deepsig (A.I. wireless communications).

Shield Capital: Raj Shah, former managing partner, Defense Innovation Unit, Air Force F-16 pilot (2018); Michael Brown, former director, Defense Innovation Unit (2022); Sean Stackley, former assistant secretary of the Navy (2017); Letitia Long, former director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (2014); H.R. McMaster, retired Army lieutenant general, former White House national security adviser (2018); Sumit Agarwal, former Air National Guard and deputy assistant secretary of defense (2015); David Rothzeid, Air Force reservist and former Air Force acquisitions executive (2021); Lisa Hill, former Defense Innovation Unit, U.S. Africa Command (2018). Defense-related investments: Elroy Air (autonomous cargo delivery), Rebellion Defense (mission management software), HawkEye 360 (satellite company), Vannevar Labs (defense software), Apex (spacecraft), Rangeview (robotics and data processing), Air Space Intelligence (military air traffic management), Albedo (space imagery), Overwatch Imaging (geospatial intelligence).

US Innovative Technology Fund: James Geurts, former assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, also acquisitions executive at Special Operations Command (2021); Hugh Wyman Howard III, retired rear admiral, former commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare Command (2022); Ryan McCarthy,former secretary of the Army (2021); Richard Spencer,former secretary of the Navy (2019).Sally Donnelly,former aide (2018) to former Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, serves as adviser to Thomas Tull, the founder of Innovative Technology Fund. Defense-related investments: Gecko Robotics (automated maintenance assessments), Saronic Technologies (autonomous naval vessels), Primer (A.I. software), Capella Space (satellites), Shield AI (A.I. pilot), Anduril (defense software/autonomous vehicles).

8VC: Brian Hendrickson, retired Navy rear admiral, Southern Command, and military director, Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (2019). Defense-related investments:Anduril Industries (defense software/autonomous weapons), Epirus (counter drone), Palantir (A.I. software), Saronic Technologies (autonomous naval vessels).

Lux Capital: Raymond Anthony Thomas III, retired general,U.S. Special Operations Command (2019); James Geurts, former assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, and acquisitions executive at Special Operations Command (2021). Defense-related investments: Hadrian (advanced manufacturing), Saildrone (autonomous maritime surveillance), Anduril (defense software/autonomous vehicles), Impulse Space (space payload delivery), Astranis (space communications), Primer (A.I. software), Relativity (space launch).

SineWave Ventures: J David Harris, former chief data scientist, National Security Agency (2021); Brian Hibbeln, former director, Defense Department Remote Sensing Center (2020). Defense-related investments: Clarifai (computer vision, large language A.I.), Shabodi (communications networks).

General Catalyst: Scott Howell, retired Air Force lieutenant general, former Joint Special Operations Command (2021). Defense-related investments:Vannevar Labs (defense software), Anduril (defense software/autonomous drones), Applied Intuition (autonomous vehicle software).

AE Industrial Partners: James McConville,retired general, chief of staff of the U.S. Army (2023). Defense-related investments: Firefly Aerospace (satellite launch), Sierra Space (space launch), ThayerMahan (submarine detection), Columbia Helicopters (defense helicopters), BigBear.AI (intel and defense A.I.).

Pallas Advisors/Pallas Ventures/Pallas Foundation: Richard Spencer,former secretary of the Navy (2019); Sally Donnelly,former adviser to Defense Secretary James N. Mattis (2018), adviser during nomination of Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III (2020); Tony DeMartino, former deputy chief of staff to the defense secretary (2018); Clinton Hinote,retired lieutenant general,former deputy executive director of the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability (2023); Paul Benfield, former special assistant to the deputy secretary of defense (2018); Essye Miller,former principal deputy chief information officer at the Defense Department (2020); Michael Fantini, retired Air Force major general and director of Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability (2020); Sue Gordon, former principal deputy director of National Intelligence (2019), current member of the Defense Innovation Board.Defense-related investments: Morpheus Space (space propulsion), Rebellion Defense (mission management software), Hermeus (hypersonic aircraft), Impulse Space (space payload delivery).

WestExec Advisors/Ridgeline Partners: Michèle A. Flournoy, former under secretary of defense for policy (2012); Nitin Chadda, former senior adviser to the secretary of defense and director at National Security Council (2017). Defense-related investments: Satellite Vu (thermal imaging satellites), Loft Orbital (satellite deployment), AI Squared (machine learning/A.I.).

Paladin Capital Group: Chris Inglis, first national cyber director at White House (2023); Jan Tighe, retired vice admiral (2018); Mark Montgomery, retired rear admiral (2017); Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff to the director of the C.I.A. and former chief of staff to the secretary of defense (2013); Kenneth A. Minihan, retired lieutenant general,former director of the National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency (1999). Defense-related investments: CalypsoAI (A.I. testing), Ursa Space Systems (space analytics).

Leonid Capital Partners: James Geurts, former assistant secretary of the Navy (2021); Brian Hibbeln, former director, Defense Department Remote Sensing Center (2020); Robin Rand,retired general and commander, Air Force Global Strike Command (2018); Melvin Spiese, retired Marine Corps major general (2013); Michael Barbero, retired Army general (2013). Defense-related financing: not disclosed.

Snowpoint Ventures: Doug Philippone, former Army Ranger (2008); Alexander Creasey, former Navy cryptologist (2011).Defense-related investments: Elroy Air (autonomous cargo delivery), FlightWave (drone), Gecko Robotic (automated maintenance assessments), Merlin Labs (autonomous pilot), Red 6 (military training), Shield AI (A.I. pilot).

J2 Ventures: Matt Goldman, former Air Force and chief medical officer, Defense Innovation Unit (2022); Alexander Harstrick,formerly of the Defense Innovation Unit (2018); Patricia D. Horoho,former Army surgeon general and commander of Army Medical Command (2016); Geoff Orazem,former Marine officer (2005, still Army National Guard); Raquel Cruz Bono, retired vice admiral (2019); Will Hallisey,former White House National Security Council staff; Tom Hennessey,former Navy surface warfare and intelligence officer (2011).Defense-related investments: Apex (spacecraft), Primer (A.I. software), Ravn (military software), Shift5 (data-driven equipment maintenance).

Insight Partners: Nick Sinai, former White House deputy chief technology officer (2014). Defense-related investments: Rebellion Defense (mission management software), HawkEye 360 (satellites), LeoLabs (low earth orbit space), Shift5 (data-driven equipment maintenance), Recorded Future (threat intelligence).

Nick Sinai, a former White House deputy chief of technology in the Obama administration, works for Insight Partners.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York Times

Franklin Templeton: Chris O’Donnell, former Navy SEAL (2004); Sam Gray, former Defense Department fighter jet acquisitions portfolio manager (2020). Defense-related investments: Airspace Intelligence (air traffic), CesiumAstro (space communications).

Pine Island Capital Partners: Mike Mullen, retired United States Navy admiral, served as the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (2011).Defense-related investments: Precinmac (military parts manufacturer), Petersen (precision military parts).

Moonshots: Craig Cummings, former Army intelligence officer, supporting National Security Agency (2009); Kelly Perdew, former Army military intelligence officer (1992). Defense-related investments: Proteus Space (satellite design), Red 6 (military training), Outpost (reusable satellites).

Harpoon: Larsen Jensen,former U.S. Navy SEAL (2015).Defense-related investments: Merlin Labs (autonomous pilot), Astranis (satellite communications).

Chertoff Group/MC2 Security Fund: Michael Chertoff, former homeland security secretary (2009); Chad Sweet, former chief of staff at homeland security (2009); George Kovatch, former deputy comptroller, Defense Department (2021). (Mr. Sweet and Mr. Kovatch are among the few on this list who have formally registered as lobbyists while intervening with government officials on behalf of a company their firm has invested in.) Defense-related investments: ThayerMahan (submarine tactical equipment), Virtru (encrypted email).

Point72 Ventures: Daniel Gwak, former member, In-Q-Tel, the strategic investment firm of the C.I.A. and U.S. intelligence community; infantry fire team, U.S. Marine Corps (2017). Defense-related investments: Shield AI (A.I. pilot); BlacksharkAI, Saronic (maritime drones), Stoke Space (rocket company), Vannevar Labs (defense software).

Marque Ventures: Tip Myers, former Marine Corps infantry officer, head of operations, Army Venture Capital Corporation (2022); Travis Ledwith, U.S. Navy Reserve, Defense Innovation Unit liaison officer (still working with the Pentagon as a reserve officer). Defense-related investments: Mach Industries (hydrogen fueled weapons), Vatn Systems (underwater surveillance and attack drones), goTenna (military communications), RangeView (military parts), GeoSite (geospatial data).

Decisive Point: Thomas Hendrix, former Army Green Beret (2015); Eric Horan, Naval Sea Systems Command (2018). Defense-related investments:EpiSci (A.I. pilot), Aloft (drone technology), Firehawk Aerospace, FlightWave (drone), Firestorm, Vatn Systems (underwater surveillance and attack drones).

Cubit Capital: Benjamin Kohlmann,former U.S. Navy pilot and executive at the Navy’s Rapid Innovation Cell (2015 left active duty). Defense-related investments: Gecko Robotics (automated equipment maintenance), Saronic (unmanned surface vessels), Venus Aerospace (hypersonics), True Anomaly (space security), Chaos (radar).

Razor’s Edge Ventures: Steve Pann,former infantry officer Marine Corps, John F. Mulholland Jr., retired Army lieutenant general and associate director Military Affairs, Central Intelligence Agency (2016). Defense related investments: BlackSignal (intelligence community signals processing), HawkEye 360 (satellite data) and XBow (rocket manufacturing), Blackbird Technologies (acquired by Raytheon).

Carlyle Group: Frank Finelli, retired Army lieutenant colonel, former special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1998); James Stavridis, retired Navy admiral, former NATO commander (2013). Defense-related investments: IMIA (shipbuilding and repair), ADB Safegate (airport safety).

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