Steven Brill Seeking $30M for Newest Venture

Media mogul Steven Brill has big ambitions for his newest business venture, four-year-old Verified Identity Pass. The New York company sells biometric cards that give users access to designated security lanes in 16 airports around the country.

Not only is Brill hustling to get the technology — better known as “Clear” — into more airports, but he also has been speaking with VCs about raising $30 million at a $90 million pre-money valuation, according to a well-placed source.

The company has already raised at least $17.3 million in funding, including an $8 million first round in 2004 from Baker Capital and Lehman Brothers. According to a regulatory filing dating back to May, the company was quickly closing in on another $9.3 million. (No institutional investors were listed.)

I reached Brill at his office this morning, and he said of the $30 million raise: “We haven’t announced anything yet, so I’m not going to comment.” He then added of the $17.3 million that VIP has raised thus far: “That is not the complete picture of what we’ve raised or will raise.”

It makes sense for Brill to up the ante; VIP is the largest private company to seize the opportunity born of the Department of Homeland Security’s Registered Traveler program, a program intended to speed along “road warriors” who travel three to six times a month and who obtain special clearance by submitting to elaborate identification and background checks by the TSA. VIP’s customers pay $128 a year for a photo ID card that contains information about their fingerprints and irises. The company has signed up 200,000 people, up from 30,000 last summer.

VIP did encounter a major hiccup on Tuesday; the TSA forced it to suspend enrollment in its program after a VIP-issued laptop was stolen from San Francisco International Airport, one that — you guessed it — contained unencrypted, highly sensitive information like the names, addresses, passport and driver’s license numbers of some of its customers (a whopping 33,000 of them).

In a statement by the TSA, the agency said that VIP can’t resume business as usual until it loses all its unencrypted computers and submits an independent audit, verifying that the “required security measures are in place. TSA will [then] verify the audits before enrollment procedures can resume.”

There’s a happy ending to the story, however. Brill told me that late yesterday, VIP found the renegade laptop in a cabinet in VIP’s SFO office, and that after examination, they determined that it wasn’t even turned on. “Whether someone moved it, or whether they were planning to steal it and got cold feet or moved it because we got real interested in trying to find it isn’t clear,” he added. The company has since notified everyone who would have been affected by a breach.

Whether investors think VIP is as worth as much as Brill seems to remains to be seen, but there’s no arguing that the company is positioned well. As more passengers run out of patience with jet travel and look for some relief, the Registered Traveler program has taken off. Since last summer, nine airports have added Registered Traveler program: Reagan National; Dulles; SFO; Salt Lake City; New York/LaGuardia; Denver; Westchester; and Little Rock. Earlier adopters include Indianapolis; Reno; Jacksonville; Orlando; Newark; San Jose; Albany; and Cincinnati.