Feb 4 2012

The Roots Of The Boulder Internet Community

It’s fascinating to go digging for the roots in a startup community. There’s a rich entrepreneurial history in Boulder that pre-dates me arriving here at the end of 1995 that covers a lot of different industries, especially storage, telecomm, natural foods, and life sciences. While the rise of the commercial Internet really took off in the mid 1990’s, the seeds for it were planted in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Ned McClain, the co-founder and CTO of Applied Trust (who’s office is across the street from mine) wrote me a great history of the Colorado Internet Cooperative. It includes several key entrepreneurs in Boulder’s Internet scene, including Andrew Currie, Barb Dijker, Evi Nemeth, Trent Hein, and Herb Morreale.

Following is the short version of the story that adds nicely to the history of the Boulder startup community.

The Coop began as a member-owned ISP – providing T1 lines to Colorado startups (and other businesses) that would otherwise have not had Internet service at a small fraction of the price the Tier 1 and 2 providers were charging.  The Coop started officially in 1994, but the core team was deploying Internet access to commercial customers as early as 1991 (under Colorado SuperNet, (at the time) a not-for-profit).  My business partner Trent Hein worked closely with other Boulder tech leaders like Andrew Currie, Barb Dijker, and Evi Nemeth (from CU) – and others – to make the Coop a reality.  In my opinion, the Coop’s cheap connectivity/bandwidth was a key ingredient in the Boulder area’s early successful Internet startups.  Prior to the COOP, Colorado was a bandwidth desert – it hadn’t attracted the investments necessary to build widespread commercial data infrastructure.  I would be really surprised if there was a tech company started in the early 90’s that didn’t use the Coop, or a Coop customer, for access.  

Trent, along with Herb Morreale, founded XOR in 1991, which was one of the earliest web companies and I am pretty sure one of the first companies to do any form of ecommerce.  He has a ton of amazing stories about the early Internet days in Boulder/at CU.  Trent and Evi were two of the key engineers to investigate and remediate the Morris Internet Worm back in 1988 – since CU was such a huge component of that first-ever Internet security incident, that story might be an awesome fit in your book.

Here’s a quote from a recent chat with Trent re: his work at CU in the late 80’s:  “I can still remember getting up early on snowy mornings to go thaw out the satellite dish that provided the 56Kbps link to the WHOLE campus.  There was no fiber or even T-1.  We had 56Kbps satellite, when it wasn’t iced over.”

If you were a part of this, feel free to add on to the history in the comments. While I haven’t worked closely with Barb, Evi, Ned, or Trent, I co-founded Email Publishing in 1996 with Andrew Currie and Brian Makare and have worked on several projects with Herb Morreale’s (and ran at least one marathon with him) over the years. It’s pretty fun to reflect on where things were, how they evolved, and where they are now.