Courtesy of Mapbox
By Heather Clancy
June 18, 2015

The mapping technology sector is navigating a serious directional shift. Uber is poaching Google mapping experts. Apple is acquiring location data specialists. And Nokia is seeking buyers for its digital mapping business, which could be extremely valuable for autonomous vehicles. This list of companies looking for a detour is long.

Software startup Mapbox is steering right into the thick of things. Its mission: infuse corporate data with geospatial and location-based context. Target customers include local retailers, real estate property managers, insurance companies—really, any business seeking to show patterns on a map.

“We build great maps, but that’s just the canvas for anyone to integrate real-time data and visualizations into their applications,” Mapbox CEO Eric Gundersen told Fortune earlier this week, when the company disclosed $52.55 million in new venture capital backing.

DFJ Growth was the lead investor. Foundry Group, which led an earlier $10 million infusion, is also participating along with DBL Partners. Thrive Capital, Pritzker Group, Promus Ventures, and individual investor Jon Winkelreid are also involved.

“Our backers are taking the long view,” Gundersen writes in his blog about the infusion. “They understand how location is fundamental to every app and enterprise, are watching the entire mapping space turn upside down, and look to a future of connected sensors and real-time data streams. This is about investing in the core infrastructure to power the future of location data.”

 

The five-year-old company graduated from training wheels by visualizing election results in Afghanistan and tracking malaria outbreaks in Africa. But its engineers now help some pretty heavy hitters in social media and the consumer Internet, including Foursquare, Pinterest and Etsy.

What’s more, earlier this month, Mapbox disclosed a strategic relationship with Mapquest, which accounts for about 20% of the consumer mapping business with about 40 million active users. The goal: make Mapquest’s maps far more interactive and customizable for businesses seeking to visualize geospatial data. Oh, and yes, make the company’s mobile apps more responsive.

Mapbox already tripled its workforce to more than 100 people over the past 18 months. Much of the new money will go into adding more new talent.

“This funding is squarely focused on growing the team and buying strategic data sets,” Gundersen said.

Marc Prioleau, a consultant on location-based technologies who sits on the Mapbox board, writes about the transaction in a blog post:

The variety of data sources in geo is exploding, driving a need for a new generation of maps. The pace is just going to increase as location-enabled sensors come on line. Ten years ago, maps were all about a navigation use case. We looked at streets, addresses, POIs, maybe a little traffic. That’s not true today. Today, it’s about imagery, social media, real time content, and much more.

Mapbox’s best-known rivals include Google’s business mapping initiative and Esri, a 45-year-old privately held geographic information systems company that sells technology used by more than two-thirds of the Fortune 500.

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