CU Boulder alumnus was instrumental in launching what became Ball Aerospace and other successful ventures
R.C. “Merc” Mercure Jr., a University of Colorado Boulder alumnus and entrepreneur who helped launch Boulder into the pantheon of aerospace science and engineering, died on Feb. 10, 2022, in Boulder. He was 90.
Mercure earned three degrees from CU Boulder, the last being a PhD in physics in 1957.
Even before graduating, however, he was an entrepreneur. Mercure was one of the founding engineers at what is now called the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at CU Boulder. But in 1956 he and others founded Ball Brothers Research Corp., now Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp.
“It was great, great, great, great fun,” said Mercure, told The Denver Post in 2007. “The word today is passion—that’s probably a good way to describe all of us that were involved at the time.”
“Nobody had done these things before,” Mercure said. “Aerospace was very, very new.”
Later he held positions as group vice president technical products and vice president business development. He retired from Ball in 1980.
Mercure was described as a “revolutionizer” of the university’s process for transforming research at CU Boulder into commercial applications. He was also a civic leader.
Mercure, a Berthoud native, was highly respected in the business community and was inducted into the Boulder County Business Hall of Fame in 2002.
“He understood that Boulder’s strength was innovation,” Boulder Chamber CEO John Tayer told BizWest. “He was a supporter of new entrepreneurs and their growth and development in our community.”
Ball Brothers Research Corp. “was the original high-tech company in Boulder—the original startup,” Kyle Lefkoff, founder of Boulder Ventures Ltd., told BizWest. “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,” BizWest quoted Lefkoff as saying.
In 1988, Mercure returned to CU Boulder to serve in several high-level positions, including: director of the Master of Engineering in Engineering Management Program; managing director of the Optoelectronic Computing Systems Center, a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center; and director of Tech Transfer for the University of Colorado.
In 1996 he and two others founded CDM Optics, Inc., which was sold to OmniVision Technologies, Inc., a publicly held company, in 2005.
Mercure was president of the Western Electronics Manufacture Association (now the American Electronics Association). He was a director for several public companies, including three NYSE companies, and he has served on the board of several private companies.
He served as president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research Foundation, and his civic activities included a stint as a Boulder city councilman and a member of the Boulder Planning Board.
Mercure won the George Norlin Award for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement, College of Engineering and Applied Science Distinguished Alumnus Award, the College of Engineering and Applied Science Centennial Medal, Department of Physics Outstanding Alumnus Award, Big-Twelve Center of Economic Development, Innovation and Commercialization Award, Esprit Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award and 20th Anniversary Esprit Visionary Award and Boulder County Business Hall of Fame.
In 2011, he received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from CU Boulder.
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.”
Among the boards on which Mercure served was KMLabs, whose co-founder is Henry Kapteyn, a CU Boulder physicist. Kapteyn told BizWest 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.”