ISI settled on the top floor of a 12-story, oceanfront building in part because air conditioning for its computer room was cheaper right below the rooftop compressors. The new venture couldn't afford furniture, so Uncapher and two ex-RAND colleagues wrote the first proposal while sitting on the shag rug. Thirty days later, DARPA funded the proposal for $6 million - a huge sum for a startup organization with three people.

Uncapher’s vision: filling the gap between university research and corporate product development. In essence, he sought to develop an organization that would be more concrete than the purely theoretical investigation common among high-powered research universities, and less product-driven than R&D typically undertaken by corporations.

He succeeded. One of the world’s leading centers for advanced information science and technology research, ISI’s initial three-person staff has grown to about 350 researchers, graduate students and staff with locations on both coasts. The Institute works with more than 20 federal agencies and departments, including DARPA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

In fact, ISI’s strong federal support helps the Viterbi School rank among the nation’s top five universities in terms of research funding. The Institute also has forged innovative private-sector partnerships, among them a center for developing “smart” oilfield technologies and talent, that is funded by Chevron Corp. for $3 million annually.