Startups  February 16, 2022

Boulder aerospace, venture pioneer R.C. ‘Merc’ Mercure dead at 90

BOULDER — R.C. “Merc” Mercure Jr., a technology entrepreneur who helped found Ball Brothers Research Corp., which later became Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., died on Thursday in Boulder at the age of 90, his family has confirmed to BizWest.

A University of Colorado Boulder graduate, physics Ph.D. recipient and revolutionizer of CU’s process for commercializing research, Mercure was one of the godfathers of Boulder’s world-class technology and venture-capital ecosystems, as well as civic leader. 

Mercure, a father of two daughters and Berthoud native, was the recipient of numerous awards as a local luminary in the business community and was inducted in 2002 into the Boulder County Business Hall of Fame.

“He understood that Boulder’s strength was innovation,” Boulder Chamber CEO John Tayer said of Mercure. “He was a supporter of new entrepreneurs and their growth and development in our community.”

Ball Brothers Research Corp., which Mercure co-founded in the mid-1950s, “was the original high-tech company in Boulder — the original startup,” said Kyle Lefkoff, founder of Boulder Ventures Ltd., which he launched alongside his former boss Mercure. “He invented the space industry in Colorado, he invented the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Boulder.”

In addition to Ball Aerospace, Mercure founded numerous Boulder-based companies, including Colorado Venture Management, which saw major successes investing in bioscience and energy-technology companies, and CDM Optics Inc., which revolutionized the digital imaging industry with technology spun out of CU.

“He was a brilliant applied physicist who had a natural knack for business,” Lefkoff said. 

In a 2002 interview with BizWest, Mercure said, “I realized pretty quickly that there were a heck of a lot smarter physicists than I was. So I moved toward the management side of the business instead of the research side.”

Still, he always kept one foot in the world of academia. 

Mercure was heavily involved in his alma mater, directing CU’s engineering and technology-transfer programs and helping establish the school’s Optoelectronic Computing Systems Center and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research Foundation.

As a community leader, Mercure was a member of the Boulder Planning Board and co-chairman of the Boulder Housing Authority before being elected to the Boulder City Council.

Mercure, during his tenure on the board in the late 1960s, helped end alcohol prohibition in Boulder and later became one of the original investors in Liquor Mart.

“There was a lot of controversy about it back then, but he thought it was the right thing to do,” Lefkoff said. 

Mercure also served on a host of company and organization boards, including recently KMLabs Inc. and mental-health service provider Colorado Recovery, whose board chairman David Burgess said, “We benefited greatly from his wisdom and his business sense.”

KMLabs co-founder Henry Kapteyn told BizWest in an email that Mercure was “just an amazing person, sharp as a tack, but a joy to work with and a role model for myself and many of the others in the optics and ‘deep tech’ entrepreneurial community that he devoted his time to in recent years.”

He added: “I really looked up to him and will miss him.”

An avid outdoorsman and a humble family man whose wife, Nancy Mercure, died in 2019, Mercure is survived by two daughters, a son-in-law, a grandson and two great-grandsons.

“He was a gentle and wise man, and we miss him already,” Burgess said. 

Mecure is remembered by his family as a world traveler and lover of Colorado’s backcountry.

Mercure requested that no memorial service be held, and his family is honoring that request. However, donations can be made in his name to the CU Physics Department. 

Lucas High
A Maryland native, Lucas has worked at news agencies from Wyoming to South Carolina before putting roots down in Colorado.
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