In a recent “Bugs without Borders” study, 89% of pest professionals report treating bed bug infestations in single-family homes, 88% report treating in apartments/condos and 67% report treating in hotels/motels. Bed bugs can live for months without a blood meal and survive temperatures from freezing to 122 degrees. They can travel home from your vacation or business travel in your suitcase and infest your house (pro tip: store your suitcases in your garage). But Happy Valley startup ConidioTec has developed a way to treat them effectively without chemicals: nontoxic fungal biopesticide Aprehend®.
ConidioTec lead entomologist and co-founder Dr. Nina Jenkins talks about how her company developed Aprehend®, how Ben Franklin helped forge their success and what you should be doing the next time you travel.
"Happy Valley was an obvious choice for the location of ConidioTec. It has enabled us to maintain links with the university, and draw on the support of the Invent Penn State initiative and the Ben Franklin team."
HVI: I saw your recent LinkedIn post about bed bugs and travel. Can you give us the bad news first — What percentage of accommodations have bed bugs?
Jenkins: I don't think it is possible to even obtain this statistic, but I think it is accurate to say that most hospitality businesses, regardless of their cost/status, have to deal with bed bug introductions. It is impossible for any hotel to prevent their guests from checking in with bed bugs. The key is to have cleaning staff trained in early detection, but the task of successfully finding one or two bed bugs immediately after their introduction by a guest is practically impossible.
For this reason, many hotels are investigating proactive measures to either prevent introduced bed bugs from establishing an infestation, or by installing bed bug monitors. Aprehend® provides a great option for the former measure, as it only needs to be applied on a quarterly schedule, and will address all introduced bed bugs as soon as they reach the bed. Any hotel or Airbnb implementing these measures can operate in the confidence that they are unlikely to be hit with a lawsuit if a litigious guest discovers bed bugs in the room, gets bitten or even worse, ends up transporting them to their home to create an infestation.
HVI: Has demand for Aprehend® gone up as people are traveling more this year? (On that note, how do we avoid them when we travel?)
Jenkins: Demand for Aprehend® has been increasing year after year since our launch at the end of 2017, but it is difficult for us to determine if the proportional increase is due to increased demand or our marketing activities to pest control companies who haven’t yet adopted Aprehend® into their bed bug protocols. However, having said that, it is highly likely that increases in travel will result in more bed bug introductions and, if left unchecked, these will lead to more infestations.
As you travel more, keep these tips in mind:
HVI: How does ConidioTec fight this problem better than your competitors? What makes it unique?
Jenkins: Aprehend® has a number of unique advantages over traditional chemical pesticides, and the most important is residual activity. Most chemical products have very short residual activity (particularly those over-the-counter products). This means that unless you are able to target and spray a bed bug directly, the chemical is not effective. Professional chemicals have some residual activity, but most of these only last for one or two weeks. Aprehend® has a residual activity of up to three months, which means that in most cases, only a single application is required to eradicate an infestation.
Additionally, the three-month residual activity enables PMPs to offer quarterly proactive service to “at-risk” businesses to prevent introduced bed bugs from establishing an infestation. Other unique benefits of Aprehend® include direct-transfer action, where bed bugs pick up the fungal spores and take them back to their harborage to infect others in the nest, and the advantage of being a biopesticide with a non-toxic mode of action.
HVI: Can you talk to me about the origin of ConidioTec. Why bed bugs and biopesticides?
Jenkins: Our team in the Department of Entomology at Penn State has been researching the use of fungal biopesticides for a range of insect pests. Traditionally these products have been developed for agricultural applications, but in the past decade, our group has been investigating the development of formulations for pests in indoor environments such as mosquitoes in Africa and house flies in poultry facilities.
The step towards bed bugs came as a result of a collaboration with a PhD student who was studying bed bug biology. It turned out that the formulations we had been developing worked better on bed bugs than any other insect we had previously investigated.
The combination of impressive efficacy, and the unique value propositions that our formulation offered for bed bug control led us to seek advice from the Penn State Office of Technology Management and the Ben Franklin team. Support from these resources, and financial support from the College of Agriculture "RAIN" grant program enabled us to establish ConidioTec as an LLC., register the product with the US Environmental Protection Program (EPA) and launch the product with a well-researched business model.
"We are beginning to gain traction from some of those large familiar national names in the pest control business, but we have our eye on even more of those big players.... Watch this space."
HVI: Why Happy Valley? What do you think the benefits are of being located in the Happy Valley ecosystem?
Jenkins: Happy Valley was an obvious choice for the location of ConidioTec. It has enabled us to maintain links with the university, and draw on the support of the Invent Penn State initiative and the Ben Franklin team. We recently repaid our loan from Ben Franklin for $258,582.97. We also enjoy the camaraderie with the Centre Region Entrepreneurs Network (CREN), which provides an enthusiastic entrepreneurial network for support and mentoring. Of course, we all love living in Happy Valley, too!
HVI: What’s next for ConidioTec?
Jenkins: More growth, we hope! We have absolutely loved the journey so far, and while our annualized sales statistics point towards over $3 million in gross sales this year, we still have a large proportion of the pest control industry to penetrate. We are beginning to gain traction from some of those large familiar national names in the pest control business, but we have our eye on even more of those big players.... Watch this space.