CLEARBROOK, MN. - The timing was perfect when Corey and Sue
Westrum started Insect Inferno, a business that builds mobile
exterminators of bed bugs.
Bed bug infestations were the story of the land, resulting in
Corey appearing on NBC and CBS national news programs and in the
Wall Street Journal.
"Everywhere you turned, people were talking about bed bugs," Sue
said. "After that publicity, our business really took off in
October of last year."
In addition to the good fortune of timing, the Westrums had help
from being a 2010 winner in the IDEA Competition, which awards
$10,000 each for up to five innovators in northwest Minnesota. The
money for the IDEA grants comes from non-profits, with the
Northwest Minnesota Foundation as the lead group.
"When we looked at what businesses are successful in our region,
we saw they are owned by local people who were born here, loved the
region and wanted to build here," said the foundation's Michelle
Landsverk, citing Marvin Windows, Arctic Cat, Polaris and Digi-Key
"So, why chase the smokestacks when you can grow talent already
here if you give them access to resources?"
Among those nodding their heads in agreement at a farm shop just
outside of Clearbrook was Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
"We need to make things and invent things to sell across the
world," Klobuchar said. "We don't need to try to make money on Wall
Street. We need to innovate."
Minnesota has escaped the worst of the nation's economic
downturn, Klobuchar said, because of agriculture's success and
"homegrown talent" of innovation companies.
The Insect Inferno is a mobile unit that uses heat to kill
insects and their eggs. Furniture and mattresses are put inside the
trailer, where fans and 160-degree temperatures destroy the pests.
Each load takes about 90 minutes, compared with 10-12 hours if heat
is used inside a motel or apartment building, which can't handle as
high of temperatures.
With their North Star Pest Control business, the Westrums had
trouble eliminating bed bugs with more conventional methods.
In addition to the mobile unit they use for pest control,
they've sold eight others that ranged in price from $30,000 to
$40,000. The unit manufacturer is Jason Vant Hul of Northland Kilns
The Westrums said the $10,000 prize and the business advice that
comes with it helped them accelerate the development of Insect
"It would have been possible, but it gave us a huge leg-up," Sue
said. "Without it, we would have had to get investors or paid for
start-up costs ourselves. We might be at Phase 1 now instead of
The application deadline for the next round of $10,000 grants is
Nov. 15. For more information, go to www.ideacompetition.org.