This innovative telecommunications entrepreneur is expanding the state’s fiber-optic capacity

by Julia Lynam

Greg KellyGreg Kelly, the founder and president of TelJet Longhaul LLC of South Burlington, launched his business because he was tired of traveling. The result is one of Vermont’s largest Internet providers on one of the largest fiber-optic networks in the state.

A long and winding path brought Greg Kelly to Vermont to spearhead one of the state’s largest Internet providers, using one of the largest fiber-optic networks in the state. One could say he’s traveled around a network in order to establish a network.

His company, TelJet Longhaul LLC, based in South Burlington (in the process of moving to Williston), has, since 2002, established a fiber-optic cable network of more than 500 miles, including 200 miles that the company has itself installed. With annual growth cruising at 40 to 50 percent, TelJet is set to lay another 150 miles of cable in the coming 12 months.

It’s a no-frills, hands-on business. To enter the company’s premises inside the Ben and Jerry’s building on Community Drive in South Burlington is to walk straight into a work site, through a data storage area into a bare-bones office dominated by a huge computer graphics screen.

Born in Guam while his parents were stationed there — his father was an attorney employed by the U.S. government — Kelly came to the States in 1970 at the age of 12 when his family moved to Washington, D.C. He attended St. Andrew’s High School in Middletown, Del., a boarding school organized after an English model of education, The experience has allowed him to give his children some special insights into the workings of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School.

In 1974 at the age of 15, Kelly enrolled to study liberal arts at Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington, Mass., a school that caters to youngsters who are ready to begin college early. He transferred in 1976 to American University in Washington, D.C., leaving after a year to go into business. “I worked in sales for a precious gem company in San Francisco for six years,” he says, “then got into the telecommunications business on a whim, because I wanted a change.”

That step marked his entry into the arena where he’s continued to operate. Starting by selling telephone systems for other people, Kelly went on to establish his own company — the first of several. That first company, West World Communications, established in 1989, brokered refurbished telephone systems. 

Other changes followed as his lively mind spotted opportunities and sought new areas of enterprise. He became involved successively in developing an early audio software system for Microsoft Windows, publishing CD-ROM titles, and developing a device to allow TV viewers to connect to a topically related website using a remote control.

In 1997, Kelly moved to Vermont to work for NAVIS Technologies, a now-defunct Burlington company that was working on an e-mail device to connect to a TV using a wireless keyboard. 

A year later found him air-commuting weekly from his Shelburne home to Manhattan as chief information officer for Oxygen Media, a start-up cable company. That lasted until the commute began to lose its attraction, and in 2002, Kelly established TelJet. 

Dave Storandt and William Gray Dave Storandt (left), the chief technical officer, has been with TelJet since the beginning, except for time off to earn his MBA from Syracuse University. William Gray (right) is the outside plant manager.

 “I wanted a business that was based in Vermont because I didn’t wanted to travel,” he says. “I saw an opportunity and we started on the concept of laying a fiber-optic network in Vermont. It was apparent that larger users would need more capacity than was available, and that a private company could offer services such as fiber-optic cable leasing that the telephone company couldn’t because of regulation.”

Network connectivity is crucial to a modern hi-tech company, Kelly continues. “Just as you used to look for a building with a loading dock, now you look for low-cost, scalable connectivity — the capacity to get whatever amount of bandwidth you require. Even in the residential field, the availability of broadband Internet had become a factor in house buying, as high-speed connectivity can be essential for people’s careers.”

TelJet’s chief technical officer, Dave Storandt, takes up the story. “Every business or organization is now connected at a minimum with the Internet, and depending on what they require, there need to be the capacity and multiple vendors who are getting to the customer over diverse infrastructures. Traditional telecom is not enough. Part of the value proposition that we saw was to have an infrastructure set up that was separate from any of our competitors.”

A native of Clayton, N.Y., Storandt joined TelJet in 2002, after eight years in the dot-com world. He took time off to earn an MBA from Syracuse University and returned as chief technical officer in 2007. Kelly and Storandt are the company’s nexus. “Dave keeps it running,” says Kelly, “while I go out and look for customers and opportunities to grow the company.”

Jessica Pinnell and Sue FritzSeveral new employees have joined the growing staff. Among them are Jessica Pinnell (left), the office manager, and Sue Fritz, data center manager.

Grow it has. For the first few years, TelJet had no fixed abode. Kelly and Storandt worked from their homes, their cars, and coffee shops, establishing their network by laying cables and leasing existing cables until they built up to their current mileage of 500. They also built up their customer base, focusing on large users in education and medicine, and today they serve the University of Vermont and 25 percent of the private colleges in the state and about 17 percent of the medical market. “UVM is one of our larger customers,” says Kelly. “As we expand we’ll be adding telecom companies as customers as well as other medium to large corporations.”

David Todd, UVM’s chief information officer. has worked with TelJet for about three years. “Greg was talking about building the optical fiber ring around Burlington,” says Todd, “and I knew that would address some of our needs, as we were building a remote data center. It provided an opportunity for us to essentially act as an anchor tenant for his development of that loop.”

TelJet is one of a group of companies invited to bid on UVM projects. “We can count on Greg,” says Todd. “He’s one of the people I try and make sure we include in all our proposal opportunities.” He laughs as he adds, “And he doesn’t always win; that’s part of the territory.

“I think of Greg in a couple of ways. First, as a service provider to UVM and, in that context, as a very innovative entrepreneur. In our dealings with him, he’s been tremendously flexible and accommodating. 

“On the personal side, he’s a very good guy to have just casual chats with. He’s a nice person, but in addition, he’s got lots of insights about telecommunications technology in Vermont.”

The fiber-optic network is like a road system, Storandt explains: “We build far enough to get access to someone else’s network, which then connects us to the world. There are four 10-gigabit services between here and our major connections in Boston and Albany.” TelJet’s network has 40-gigabit capacity. 

Kelly and Storandt moved to their South Burlington premises in 2007, intending to establish a data storage center to supplement their network business, but soon realized that they would need a larger space. By the end of this month, they will have moved the offices into new quarters on Krupp Drive in Williston. By November, the 15,000-square-foot building will house the office, warehouse, and a 4,300-square-foot data center.

“People will be able to bring in their own computer hardware, store it there, and rent the space, power, and connection from TelJet” says Storandt. “It will be available to any customer who wants to locate data off-site in the most secure, most energy-efficient data center in the state.”

In line with this expansion, TelJet’s staff is growing. Several staff members have recently joined the company, bringing the complement up to six full-timers and three part-timers, including engineers, technicians, contract and mapping administrators, and an office manager.  

In addition to running the business, Kelly makes time for sailing on Lake Champlain and in more exotic locations — he’s recently returned from a sailing vacation in Bermuda — and is on the board of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington. Divorced, he lives in Shelburne with his 12-year-old son, Adrian. His daughter, Selina, is a student at CCV and lives in Burlington. 

Dave Storandt is also a boater — although he prefers motorboats — and a world traveler. “It’s more of a ‘living social studies’ than tourism,” he says, citing visits to Bulgaria, Turkey, and Scotland where he had opportunities to get acquainted with local residents. Storandt lives in Burlington and is planning a move to Winooski when he gets married this summer. One consideration in picking his future home, he says, was, “It’s right near our fiber so I can connect my house to our network.”

Kelly extends his interest in civic engagement into the company’s operations, offering support to local schools and nonprofits, and to public broadcasting. “We are discussing with various media and performance venues the idea of creating a media network for the broadcast of performances,” he says. 

It certainly appears that the ability of Kelly and Storandt to focus on rewarding routes within a diverse network of opportunities has benefited TelJet and its future. The two men see opportunities still abounding in the field of high-tech development, and, as Storandt says, “It’s very easy as an entrepreneur to be tempted to go down different routes. It’s important to stay focused.”•