Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology graduate Wes Bolsen and Smokey Bear have at least one thing in common.
They both hate wildfires.
And both aim to do something about it.
While Smokey Bear has the communications and marketing side of wildfire prevention covered, Bolsen is taking on something decidedly more high-tech.
Bolsen, who graduated from Rose-Hulman in 2000 with an electrical engineering degree and later earned an MBA from Stanford University, became the founding CEO of Denver-based LaderaTech, which brought to market what experts are calling a revolutionary spray-on flame retardant that adheres to grass and plant life for remarkably long periods of time.
The product, known as Fortify, is seen as a key tool in the fight against wildfires in high-risk areas where they often ignite. It is already being used on private and state-owned property in California and is expected to be approved for use on federal property before the end of this year, Bolsen said.
Bolsen thinks there will be a global demand for Fortify in countries like Australia and others where wildfires are prevalent.
Contrary to popular belief, Bolsens aid, most wildfires don’t ignite from random lightning strikes. Most start near power lines, adjacent to highways or along rail lines, he explained.
“We know where most fires are starting, but before Fortify, there was no way to prevent these fires throughout the peak fire season,” Bolsen said.
Fortify contains hydrogel made from renewable resources that can be applied using conventional application techniques. Bolsen said it’s designed not to harm the environment. And, while other outdoor flame retardants have shown some short-term benefits, they have not had the properties necessary to last a full season with a single application, he said. Fortify is made to adhere to plants and maintain its flame retardant properties through an entire wildfire season.
“It’s a whole new idea,” Bolsen said.
In 2019, Fortify was applied along a four-mile stretch of a California highway where 37 wildfires had started in a single year. “With the use of Fortify, we took it down to zero,” Bolsen said.
In May, LaderaTech was acquired by St. Louis-based Perimeter Solutions, one of the world’s largest maker of fire-fighting chemicals.
The acquisition, Bolsen said, will help Fortify reach its commercial potential.
After the acquisition, Bolsen became Perimeter Solutions’ director of wildfire prevention.
Despite his busy schedule, Bolsen said he remains involved in the Rose-Hulman community—including as an active member of Rose-Hulman’s Sawmill Society, a business-minded networking organization that not only shares ideas and best practices among members but also mentors current students and other up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
Bolsen added that networks like the Sawmill Society also provide a way for schools to connect with alums that might give back to the university as they become successful.