Alumni Award winner followed winding path from farm to city to world.
Bethel College’s 2019 Young Alumnus Award winner lives in one of the country’s largest cities, but says his entrepreneurial drive originated on a farm in the middle of Kansas.
Chad Unrau, The Woodlands, Texas, accepted his award near the end of the fall 2019 semester from the Bethel Alumni Association, during the annual Young Alumnus Award convocation, before spending the next 40 minutes speaking on “The Winding Road” to an audience of students, faculty and family.
The Young Alumnus Award recognizes character and citizenship, achievement or service rendered, and honors and recognition received. The recipient must be 39 years of age or younger.
Unrau, a member of the Goessel High School Class of 2000, graduated from Bethel in 2004 with a B.S. and a double major in mathematics and physics. He earned an M.S. in mechanical engineering and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Washington University, St. Louis.
Since 2017, he has been chief operating officer of Magna Imperio (MI) Systems Corp. of Houston. Before that, he was director of engineering for NanoVapor Inc., The Woodlands (2014-17), and senior research and development (R&D) engineer for Cabot Corp., Pampa, Texas (2009-14).
Unrau describes himself as “an entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience in operations, R&D, product development and engineering.” He currently has five patents pending.
“Unrau Farms [east of Goessel] is now in its 4th generation,” he says. “In farming, you’re up against things you can’t control, like the weather and the markets. I look at my dad [Lynel Unrau] and my grandpa [Glen Unrau] and think, ‘How’d they do it?’ [I know] the farm is where I got my entrepreneur start.”
Chad Unrau completed graduate studies in 2009 – “right when the [stock] market crashed.” Thanks to his relationship with his major professor at Washington University, however, he got connected with Cabot Corp.
He and his wife, Mindy, whom he met at Bethel, decided to take a chance in 2014, moving from the Amarillo area to Houston so Unrau could be part of a start-up called NanoVapor along with a former colleague at Cabot.
NanoVapor was based on creating a fuel vapor suppression system that removed organic compounds from gasoline to significantly reduce the chance of explosion.
“I learned a lot there,” Unrau says. “Ultimately, it didn’t work out, but it led me to MI Systems.”
MI Systems, according to Bethel Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Richard Zerger, who introduced Unrau at the award convocation, is “a national and international company that designs, develops and manufactures the highest-recovery, most energy- and cost-efficient, and most sustainable water treatment system in the world.”
“A tremendous amount of treatment goes into getting us clean water,” Unrau says. “More than 800 million people struggle daily to find clean, safe water.”
He continues, “At MI Systems, we’re trying to develop solutions to the world’s water crisis through technology innovation.
“The old ‘standard’ technology is reverse osmosis, which gives you about 70 percent efficiency. [What we’ve developed at] MI Systems can achieve near 99 percent efficiency, while also being energy-efficient and discharging safe ‘waste water.’”
“Chad was chosen [for the Young Alumnus Award] for his outstanding accomplishments in science and engineering,” Zerger says. “Throughout his career, he has leveraged his academic strengths [while] embracing new opportunities and … stimulating challenges.
“There’s a pattern in Chad’s career path – he’s very successful at integrating his expertise in science, technology, engineering and math with a developing entrepreneurial spirit. And he’s also been involved in projects with an impact on solving some of the most pressing global problems – clean water, pollution control, reduced energy consumption.”
As he spoke about his “winding road,” Unrau recalled some of his accomplishments at Bethel, where he was a four-year letter winner in football, a two-time Academic All-American and a founding member of the men’s a cappella ensemble Open Road.
“It’s important to be involved,” he says, “to be part of a team and also learning how to be an individual within a team.”
Bethel and farming, he says, helped him learn the way forward: “Try – fail – repeat,” as long as necessary.