Amber Case, entrepreneur and self-proclaimed "cyborg anthropologist," is hardly one to follow a well-tread path. 

As a kid, when her classmates played soccer or piano, Case disassembled electronics and read a 1960s-era World Book Encyclopedia. While other young tech entrepreneurs flocked to Silicon Valley, she steadfastly remained in Portland. When other start-ups took venture capital, she struck deals with Department of Defense contractors to use her company's technology to save lives from minefield blasts. 

In fact, since founding her location-services platform company, Geoloqi, in 2010 with Aaron Pareki, Case has made something of a habit of turning down acquisition offers and letting VC term sheets grow stale waiting on her desk. 

Her logic: She and Pareki were busy using their meager $350,000 in seed money to gain invaluable experience in building an actual product--and one that was a platform for other developers and companies, not some slick-looking Silicon Valley-based social-mobile application targeting the lucrative (but fickle) 18-to-25 consumer demographic. 

"We want to be around for a long time," she said of Geoloqi's technology. "We didn't want a giant pool of money and to be told, 'You either skyrocket or you die.'"

So, this week, Geoloqi found an alternative to a cash infusion: Becoming enveloped into a 44-year-old private small company. It's called Esri, and it's a mapping company that says it currently provides its geographic information technology to about 300,000 organizations, including several national governments, large cities, plenty of companies, and thousands of universities. Esri, which also provides geographic intelligence for business analytics systems, is headquartered in Redlands, California.

It's an acquisition in name--but Case says she and her team have no lock-up time period, and the whole seven-person Geoloqi team will remain in Portland, as Esri's research-and-development center. Case's new title: Director of R&D for Esri Portland. 

"We are excited to have the team at Geoloqi and its technology become part of the Esri family," said Esri's president, Jack Dangermond, in a statement Monday. He also noted Esri is glad to have Geoloqi's "capabilities and relationships with the developer community" in its wheelhouse now. 

Other founders might take a note from Case's logic in creating a partnership that will allow Geoloqi's proprietary technology to flourish and grow at a comfortable pace, rather than taking venture capital funding.

"VCs right now are kind of weird. They have this herd mentality that's starting to look like a bubble," she says. "When people celebrate taking in $5 million, it's like celebrating taking a bank loan to buy a banana."


Case says the acquisition made good business sense, as Esri's maps interface compliment Geoloqi's existing platform, and can augment its capabilities, as well as expand its audience-reach. Company culture at Esri was a plus for Case and her team, too.

"I really love their approach. That's why they've been around since 1969, and they still feel like a small company," she says. "They're really focused on making a great experience for the people who work there."

But the deal also made sense to Case on a more subjective level. She says it just felt right.

"Executives from Esri flew up to Portland two days after we invited them to, casually," Case says. "They weren't just casual and informal, but I felt like I knew one of them in particular for my whole life." 

Oct 16, 2012