November 15, 2000 12:50 PM PST

Former US West CEO to head CIA-funded start-up

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The Bell phone system and the Central Intelligence Agency are both known for their strong interest in managing information.

So it should come as no surprise that longtime Bell veteran Sol Trujillo is joining a CIA-funded wireless networks company, La Jolla, Calif.-based Graviton, as its chief executive.

The small start-up was among the first to receive funding from the CIA's new venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel, which has a name that the United States' top spy agency admits is designed to invoke the memory of James Bond's favorite tinkerer, Q.

Trujillo, who left US West this summer after a contentious merger with Qwest Communications International that left the latter's Joe Nacchio in charge, spent almost his entire career in the Bell system, starting with Mountain Bell and retiring as the chief executive of US West. He will replace Graviton founder Michael Nova, who will stay on as chief technical officer.

Trujillo, 48, was recruited by Graviton director Brook Byers of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, another Graviton partner. Other investors include Qualcomm, Siemens and Sun Microsystems.

Graviton is developing a wireless data networking system that will incorporate sensors notifying users of useful information. The company says the technology, which incorporates Qualcomm's Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), has multiple commercial purposes.

For example, Coca-Cola has partnered with Graviton to equip soft drink machines that measure flow levels and adjust the syrup mix. Siemens hopes Graviton can improve security systems for commercial and residential buildings. Other partners hope to better monitor manufacturing and construction machinery, utilities equipment and even consumer appliances such as gas ovens.

In-Q-Tel is a bit more coy regarding how it might use a wireless data network. The company doesn't discuss the specific nature of the projects it funds, but insists that the research not only works to solve the agency's most vexing problems but also leads to commercial advancements.

 

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