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Tech Company Aiming High

A yak with large horns stares calmly into the distance in a field.

A small Eugene tech firm continues to rub elbows with some big-name national clients.

Concentric Sky, a 5-year-old Web development shop, recently completed a mobile computing application for National Geographic’s GeoBee, which is like a geography spelling bee for students grades 4 through 8.

The “app” for the iPhone, and larger format iPad, tests users’ geography smarts in three ways. It throws out multiple choice questions from a library of more than 1,300 National Geographic GeoBee questions. It challenges users to locate spots on an interactive map, drawing from a catalog of more than 1,000 locations. Plus, a bonus round challenges users, cued by a single photo, to find the place in the photo on an interactive map.

The app, available on iTunes, costs $1.99 for the iPhone and $3.99 for the iPad.

The GeoBee project could lead to more work with National Geographic, said Concentric Sky’s founder and president, Wayne Skipper.

“We’re talking about several other products with them,” he said, declining to go into specifics about the products or when they might be released.

Kevin Yam, who is director of Mobile and Interactive Platforms at National Geographic, said the organization is interested in doing more projects with Concentric Sky.

“They did great work for us,” Yam said. “We would definitely be interested in working with them again as different projects arise. It’s like if you buy a car you like, you’ll go back to that dealer again.”

Yam said that another company National Geographic had worked with first brought Concentric Sky to the organization’s attention.

“We were familiar with the work they did ... they had already put out a game called GeoTap,” he said. “They obviously had a great interest in geography, and National Geographic was founded in the 1800s to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge. It’s kind of in our DNA (as well as) our name.”

National Geographic is the second high-profile client Concentric Sky has partnered with this year. In January, the company announced it had teamed up with Encyclopaedia Britannica to initially introduce 10 to 12 applications, such as “This Day in History” or “Quote of the Day,” for iPhones, Blackberries and Android-based “smart phones.”

When Skipper founded Concentric Sky as a personal consultancy in 2005, he focused on Web development for a large educational client. Now the 45-person firm has dozens of clients, nearly 50 mobile applications for the iPhone, as well as applications for Palm, Blackberry and Android-based devices.

And it is in the process of expanding, Skipper said, with 10 positions to fill. “One of our primary challenges is a lack of appropriately skilled technologists,” Skipper said.

For competitive reasons, Skipper declines to reveal the company’s annual revenues, or how payment is structured in individual contracts.

In general, he said, the company makes money on mobile applications by receiving a negotiated amount for the work, a share of royalties, or involvement in some other partnership arrangement.

Mobile development is a fast-growing piece of Concentric Sky’s business, Skipper said.

“We’re rapidly becoming a go-to shop for large brands around the world,” he said. “We’re approached quite regularly by these companies to do work with them, and this (the National Geographic partnership) will just add credibility to our work in this space.”

Skipper said he thinks mobile development is a market that’s here to stay.

“You could almost think of it as the new Internet,” he said.

Concentric Sky also is raising its profile nationally, and even internationally, in other ways.

The Internet Engineering Task Force, a loosely, self-organized group of people that develops Internet protocols, recently chose Concentric Sky as one of its core Web developers, Skipper said.

“We went up against vendors from around the world and were one of only three selected,” he said, adding that the others are in Denmark and Spain.

“Being the only U.S. vendor is a great honor, and I think it shows off the capabilities that can be found at small companies in small towns like Eugene, Oregon,” Skipper said.

At Google’s request, Skipper also was an expert witness in the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation into Google’s acquisition of Admob — one of the world’s largest mobile advertising networks.

Business Editor Ilene Aleshire contributed to this story. By Sherri Buri McDonald Appeared in print in The Register-Guard: Tuesday, June 15, 2010, Page B4

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