Minnesota Couple Takes the Bite Out of Bed Bugs

GrandForksHerald.com
Saturday, November 5, 2011

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 among others.

"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.

Prize-accelerated business

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 of Bagley.

The Westrums said the $10,000 prize and the business advice that comes with it helped them accelerate the development of Insect Inferno.

"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 Phase 5."

The application deadline for the next round of $10,000 grants is Nov. 15. For more information, go to www.ideacompetition.org.