Howard Salwen received his BS in electrical engineering in ‘58 and his MSEE in ’62, both from MIT. As a graduate student and later as an employee, he worked with the MIT Electronic Systems Laboratory on contract projects for the defense department, including research and development of high-resolution radar technology. In 1972 he co-founded Proteon, and won contracts from NASA, DOT, Draper Labs, and others, to design and build communications hardware. Salwen’s skills were in communications theory, while his partner, Al Marshall had expertise in hardware design.
In 1978 Proteon was contracted by MIT to assist in their development of a local area network for the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS). This Arpanet sponsored project became the source of Proteon’s inclusion in the early history of the LAN industry. The networking adapters that Salwen and Marshall developed for the MIT project became Proteon’s initial products. Sold to universities, government agencies and businesses, these early adaptors competed with the first products from other LAN startups, 3Com, U-B and Interlan and fueled Proteon’s growth in ’81 and ‘82. Salwen continued to take on consulting projects, but by late 1982, he believed in the potential of the networking market and in the quality of his token ring network adapters and he made the decision to focus on the LAN market. Salwen had initially avoided all outside capital, preferring to keep control of his company and funding its growth with profits and his own investment, but as the PC market began to take off it became clear that he would need capital to be able to scale his business fast enough to become a market leader. In December,’83, Proteon raised $2.35 million in its initial round of funding.
With the introduction of IBM’s token ring network, Proteon was poised to take advantage of Big Blue’s late, but powerful entry to the LAN market. Proteon achieved market prominence with the success of their ProNet series of LAN adapters and software, riding the wave of token ring popularity and distancing themselves from the competition with fast, reliable IBM compatible token ring LAN products. Recognizing the opportunity presented by the presence of multiple LAN technologies, Proteon became one of the few networking companies to achieve success in the internetworking market, introducing one of the first multi-protocol gateway in ’85. By 1988, 40% of Proteon’s sales were from gateways and high-speed networking products.
In this interview Salwen provides a unique perspective on communications technologies, gained from a career that spanned the three distinct markets of data communications, networking and internetworking. I met Howard in his office at Proteon after attending a board meeting. The interview was short, since I had to catch a flight, but in it, he captures the challenges and excitement of the entrepreneur’s journey from a bootstrapped startup to well-funded industry leader.
Keywords: MIT, Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS), Proteon, IBM, token ring, ProNet