He's No Technologist, But Moves in Tech Circles

By Ellen McCarthy
Thursday, December 29, 2005

Virginia's new secretary of technology is not a technologist and has never served in government before.

No matter. Aneesh Chopra has a few other characteristics that put him in line for the position, which oversees the state's technology infrastructure and is responsible for fostering the development of Virginia's technology industry. The 33-year-old is a policy junkie, a rising star in Washington's Indian American executive circles, and he's got friends with tight ties to Gov. Mark R. Warner 's administration.

Timothy M. Kaine , Warner's lieutenant governor and successor to lead the commonwealth, told Chopra two weeks ago that he got the job.

Chopra is a somewhat surprising choice to replace Eugene J. Huang , who has held the position since September 2004, following the resignation of George C. Newstrom , a longtime executive with Electronic Data Systems Corp . Chopra studied health care policy at Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University and in 1997 landed at the Advisory Board Co ., where he runs a group that advises executives on ways to make health care operations more effective.

In his off hours, Chopra became increasingly involved with the local tech community. With a group of second-generation Indian Americans he started Avatar Capital , a venture fund that invested $11 million into 18 start-ups. ("We have a few [companies] that are still alive and a lot that are dead," Chopra admits.) And he joined Tie-DC , an organization of entrepreneurs of Indian heritage.

That group led to a crucial friendship with Hemant Kanakia , who helped make Gov. Warner (D) a very rich man. Warner's venture fund, Columbia Capital , was the leading investor in Torrent Networking Technologies , a firm Kanakia founded and sold to Ericsson for $450 million. Today Kanakia, who remains close to Warner, and Chopra serve as co-presidents of Tie-DC.

One of Chopra's biggest challenges will be to oversee the implementation of a $2 billion contract that will outsource the state's technology infrastructure and calls for hundreds of government workers to join the private sector.

Donald W. Upson , the technology secretary under Gov. James S. Gilmore III, said Chopra will have a steep learning curve. "He's got a lack of experience, that's against him, but if he recognizes that and uses that office to bring people together, he can make a difference -- I hope he does," Upson said.

Chopra concedes that he's not an expert on the inner workings of technical systems. "What I brought to the table was an understanding of the capabilities of new technologies and how they might advance a particular agenda," he said.

* * *

Another old name is resurfacing again.

Savvis Inc. , a Web-hosting firm that used to have its headquarters in Herndon, is back in town with a familiar mission: breaking into the federal market.

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