IQT president discusses tech leadership

Steve Bowsher, president of In-Q-Tel joins host Aileen Black on this week's Leaders and Legends to discuss the leadership traits of a successful tech founder.

Steve Bowsher, president of In-Q-Tel (IQT) joined host Aileen Black on this week’s Leaders and Legends to discuss how to build a successful tech business from the ground up.

IQT was founded in 1999 and invests in cutting-edge  technologies that enhance the national security of the United States. The Arlington, Virginia-based company invests in companies that support the CIA’s mission and describes itself as “combining the security savvy of government with the can-do curiosity of Silicon Valley.”

Prior to becoming president, Bowsher served as managing general partner and executive vice president at In-Q-Tel, leading the company’s investment strategy. In addition to approving all deals in partnership with CEO Chris Darby, Bowsher has personally managed IQT’s relationships with Palantir, Databricks, MongoDB, Anaconda, Initiate Systems, Cleversafe, Cloudera, Immersive Wisdom, Reversing Labs and others.

Bowsher described himself as IQT’S “problem solver,” and trusts the team he has built to carry out the company’s mission. He said his approach to leadership includes providing clear goals with the metrics to track success.

As president, Bowsher’s job includes finding companies that are innovative, cutting edge and aligned with the IQT mission. To achieve that goal, he hired a group of talented people from the industry who  left more traditional jobs because they needed more flexibility in their lives. Those hires included many women technologists who wanted a balance between the needs at home and the desire to continue their careers. Bowsher gave them the flexibility they needed and they, in turn, were able to find and “recruit” the companies that allowed IQT to build a portfolio of some of the biggest names in tech today.

Culture is crucial to any organization according to Bowsher, but he said “don’t over complicate it — a culture is best in its simplest form.”

He added that passion is the number one trait in effective leaders, as long as it is balanced with a realistic business approach.

“Many companies start with the ‘idea’ and build it but they need to work to find customers to validate the market. That is where the real difference starts to show in leadership,” Bowsher said. “At that point the founders need to add practical approaches of building that market and the profitability of that idea into a business. The founders need to be brutally honest with themselves to get to that step of an exit, like IPO or acquisition.”

Bowsher also offered some advice for the next generation of leaders.

“Don’t feel the need to figure it all out right away. Keep looking and try new things; when you see it you will know it. There is no cookie cutter path. Don’t let this paralyze you from finding the right career for you.”


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