The CIA just invested in a hot startup that makes sense of big data

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Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

In this March 3, 2005 file photo, a workman slides a dustmop over the floor at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Va.

The CIA's venture capital arm In-Q-Tel just signed a strategic investment and technology development agreement with ZoomData, a Virginia-based startup that can quickly turn a bunch of data into a meaningful visual dashboard.

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ZoomData uses something called Data Sharpening technology to deliver visual analytics from real-time or historical data. Instead of a user searching through an Excel file or creating a pivot table, ZoomData puts what's important into a custom dashboard so users can see what they need to know immediately.

In-Q-Tel didn't talk much about how the CIA might use the technology, though it says that any investments it makes are for things it can use within 36 months. Perhaps, a potential use case could be a dashboard to look at the many different raw intelligence reports coming in to spot trends, or to look at data from social media postings to predict potential global hotspots.

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"There are many startups in this space and we've seen pretty much all of them," Steve Bowsher, IQT managing director, told Forbes. "None of them had the scope of what Zoomdata's trying to do."

IQT did not say how much it invested, though it typically funds startups in the $1 to $3 million range. The ZoomData investment comes just seven months after the company closed a $25 million Series C round led by Goldman Sachs. It's raised nearly $50 million since launching in 2012.

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The CIA-backed fund has made a number of investments into enterprise software in recent years.

One of its most high-profile investments is in the secretive data-mining startup Palantir. In April, it secretly gave money to Mesosphere and Docker, cutting-edge tech companies that help to easily run software in data centers and to build and manage software at larger scale in the cloud, respectively.

"We've seen tremendous interest in Zoomdata in the federal sector," Justin Langseth, CEO of Zoomdata, said in a statement. "The investment and strategic development agreement with IQT will make it much easier for [intelligence agencies] to test, develop, and deploy solutions that leverage our unique big data visual analytics capabilities in the cloud without individual contracts that have to be negotiated every time."