March 1, 2022

Wood: When a legend dies

Boulder’s reputation as a startup mecca was not built overnight, but recollection of the primary building blocks of that reputation can fade over time.

What forces and events caused Boulder to be recognized globally as a center for startups, entrepreneurship and innovation?

Was it the founding of the University of Colorado Boulder in 1876? The university certainly has played — and continues to play — a major role in the innovation economy.

Was it establishment of federal laboratories such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology or others? Again, they feed the entrepreneurial and scientific appetites within the community.

Was it IBM Corp.’s decision to locate a large operation in Boulder decades ago? IBM was not a startup, but it spawned dozens of businesses and the data-storage industry overall.

All of those factors, and many more, helped to build Boulder as a center for entrepreneurship, innovation and startups.

R.C. “Merc” Mercure Jr.’s influence during his decades-long career spans the aerospace industry, venture capital, academics and local government.

But Boulder’s startup reputation also derives from individuals, and none more so than R.C. “Merc” Mercure, who died in February at the age of 90. BizWest associate editor Lucas High described Mercure as “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 co-founded Ball Brothers Research Corp., which later became Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., and what Boulder venture capitalist Kyle Lefkoff describes as “the original high-tech company in Boulder — the original startup.”

Lefkoff, founder of Boulder Ventures Ltd., which he launched alongside his former boss Mercure, went even further: “He invented the space industry in Colorado, he invented the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Boulder,” Lefkoff said.

Mercure founded other Boulder companies, including Colorado Venture Management and CDM Optics Inc.

And, as High noted, “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.”

Mercure, a Berthoud native, also was a prominent community leader, ranging from the Boulder Planning Board to the Boulder Housing Authority and the Boulder City Council. He also was a noted philanthropist.

Any leader of a startup in Boulder owes a debt of gratitude to those who have gone before, those who laid the foundations of the innovation economy, whether it be data storage, software, natural products, the outdoor industry, quantum computing, blockchain or any of a myriad of industries.

They can all trace their origins back to CU, the federal labs, IBM and, yes, a man named R.C. “Merc” Mercure and others like him. And when such an individual dies, we should all pause to acknowledge their contributions, celebrate their accomplishments and strive to emulate their example.

For Mercure, it’s an example of risk, foresight, intelligence, humility, wisdom, civic-mindedness and thinking “big.”

Rest easy, Merc, and thank you.

Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-630-1942 or

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