Take a couple of Alberta farm boys, put a fire in their bellies and just watch what they can do.
At times there wasn’t much other than fire and Kraft Dinner in the stomachs of Evan, ’88 BCom, and Shane Chrapko, ’90 BSc(Ag). In the late ’90s, the brothers from Two Hills, Alta., were living on the cheap while trying to develop the first web-based system for storing and sharing files. Fewer than three years later, they sold DocSpace for a staggering $811 million. The pair could have cashed in and checked out, but ambition burns hot in these two. So sleeves were rolled up again as they plunged into a number of new startups and turnarounds in the tech sector.
As successful as they’ve been as entrepreneurs, it’s in clean energy that their impact is really being felt. Their Growing Power Hairy Hill bioFuel plant near Vegreville, Alta., turns tens of thousands of tonnes of manure and other waste into green energy each year. Another of their companies, Himark bioGas, owns all of the patents on their unique refining process, which is proving that creating cleaner energy can be energy-efficient and cost-effective.
“The Chrapko brothers are truly innovators,” says John Kennelly, ’80 PhD, dean of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences at the U of A. “[They] are to be commended for providing leadership in the development of new technologies that have application in livestock production as well as in the biofuels sector.”
Those technologies are attracting interest in Canada, the United States and other countries, including in the developing world, where access to affordable, renewable energy can be a first step toward raising the standard of living. One of their projects in Pakistan will convert sewage into electricity, and the potential to help people in other areas is enormous.
That potential is taking the two all over the world, with Evan in charge of technology and patents and Shane spearheading sales. Yet their roots remain deep in Alberta, where they credit their rural upbringing for their strong values. Often seen in cowboy hats, they call Edmonton home and rent lab space at the U of A’s Agri-Food Discovery Place, bringing in local scientists and grads to do research. Just a couple of local boys who have already made good. And they’re just warming up.