Bohemian’s $6 million gift creates Bryan Willson Presidential Chair

Colorado State University professor Bryan Willson arrived on the Fort Collins campus more than 25 years ago to teach design. His students, and a passion for energy research, led him on a journey of discovery to find cleaner and more efficient ways to power our world.

He and a team of faculty, researchers and students worked together to create the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory, transforming the former municipal power plant in Fort Collins into a hub for innovation. (The complex has since evolved into the Powerhouse Energy Campus, where vision, innovation and business acumen come together to move technology to market, so it can benefit the world.)

A perfect match

It was 2002 when Willson’s vision really came together. He was seeking financial backing for a project he believed could change the world, while leadership at the newly formed Fort Collins-based Bohemian Foundation was looking for opportunities to support a project that would change the world.

Bryan Willson Powerhouse
CSU professor Bryan Willson speaks at the dedication of the Powerhouse Energy Institute in 2012.

A powerful partnership was formed, and Envirofit became a reality.

“Bohemian Foundation became the first funder for Envirofit, but they were doing more than just writing checks,” Willson recalled. “They were mentoring us in how to form a successful business. We made a lot of mistakes along the way, and Bohemian was a very patient funder. Ultimately that patience has really had an impact on the world.”

Changing the world

Envirofit has blossomed into a for-profit business that has transformed the way meals are prepared by millions of people living in extreme energy poverty in the developing world. The company’s high-efficiency cookstoves not only greatly reduce indoor air pollution, they require far less fuel and cook faster than traditional methods. Envirofit is one of the world’s largest suppliers of clean-burning cookstoves.

That project also marked Bohemian Foundation’s entry into supporting sustainability projects on a global scale.

Cookstoves developed by Bryan Willson and Envirofit have had a significant impact on indoor pollution in homes in the developing world.

“Our experience with Envirofit and Bryan Willson really taught the Foundation an important lesson, and the lesson has to do with the role foundations can play, and that’s to take a risk,” said Joe Zimlich, CEO of Bohemian Companies and a member of the Bohemian Foundation Board of Directors. “With Envirofit we learned that taking a risk can have really good outcomes.”

Putting CSU, Fort Collins on the innovations map

Willson’s impact on the world – and CSU – is far greater than the creation and marketing of cookstoves; he and his team have made important contributions to engine technology, smart electric grids, advanced biofuels and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The Powerhouse Energy Campus and CSU Energy Institute, which Willson directs, are recognized as world leaders in energy innovation, and CSU and Fort Collins combine to form a recognized hub for discovery.

So, to honor his work and impact, Bohemian Foundation is providing a $6 million gift to CSU to create the Bryan Willson Presidential Chair in Energy Innovation. Not only does the gift ensure that Willson will be able to continue his groundbreaking work, it allows CSU to recruit top talent for years to come.

“Bryan Willson embodies everything we cherish at CSU, fully embracing the land-grant mission to do transformative research that can improve the lives of all people,” said CSU President Tony Frank. “His creations through Envirofit, including the remarkable cookstoves and two-stroke engine conversion kits, have greatly reduced pollution in the developing world, and CSU’s Powerhouse is a remarkable facility that is helping researchers solve the world’s clean-energy challenges. I can think of no one on this campus more deserving of this incredible honor.

“Thank you to Bohemian Foundation for your vision, generosity and support of this critically important work.”

Prestigious honor

A presidential chair is the most prestigious honor CSU awards to a faculty member and supports salary, research, and operational costs. Such honors go to exceptionally gifted professors who have proved lasting impact in their field and academia. This will be the seventh presidential chair established at CSU.

“Bryan Willson’s innovative ideas and his ability to implement those ideas has propelled the Energy Institute to the forefront of energy problem solving,” said Joe Zimlich, board member of Bohemian Foundation. “With public and private partners and some of the strongest researchers anywhere, the Energy Institute is well positioned to develop solutions to the world’s most pressing energy problems. Bohemian’s gift is both a tribute to Bryan’s ongoing leadership and an investment in our environment and in quality of life for people around the world.”

About Bohemian Foundation

Bohemian Foundation is a private family foundation established in 2001. Based in Fort Collins, Colo., Bohemian Foundation works to empower citizens and impact communities through its responsive grant-making programs and special initiatives. The foundation includes four program areas: Community Programs, Music Programs, Civic Programs, and Global Programs.