Bemidji Women's Expo: Entrepreneurs win IDEA competition
The northward march of bedbugs inspired Corey and Sue Westrum to design a Northwest Minnesota Foundation IDEA competition winning invention.
The Insect Inferno is a trailer that kills bedbugs and their eggs on and in household furniture by roasting the insects at 130 degrees F. The trailers are manufactured in Bemidji by Jason VantHul, owner of Northland Kilns.
The Westrums, owners of North Star Pest Control based in Leonard, are among the scores of vendors displaying their merchandise and services at the 2011 Pioneer Women's Expo from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Sanford Center.
The Westrums and their technicians Joe Montague and Luke Smith serve a wide range of extermination needs from cluster flies to spiders, fleas, ants and, recently, bedbugs.
"They look a lot like a wood tick, but they're about the size of an apple seed - that's the adult size," said Sue Westrum. "We have a lot of bedbugs around here."
Almost unheard of except in the "sleep tight; don't let the bedbugs bite" joke, bedbugs have made a strong comeback after the banning of toxic insecticides like DDT. People can pick up bedbugs from travel or sitting in a theater chair because the pests are expert hitchhikers," Sue said.
Minneapolis is now among the top 10 cities in bedbug infestation, she said, "So watch it when you go to a Twins game."
North Star Pest Control was started by Sue's parents, Ron and Annie Ebbighausen, in 1983. It has been a family business ever since with Sue gradually taking over the services in 1999 and Corey joining her when they married. The couple has two children, Presley, 5, and Wyatt, 3.
"Corey and I both have our masters' licenses," Sue said. "You have to have a structural pest control license. You have to go to the state and take a test."
It was during pest control classes and a lecture by a bedbug expert that Corey came up with the idea for the Insect Inferno four or five years ago. The presenter impressed on Corey that there would soon be a need for bedbug extermination in the North Country.
The couple knew VantHul, showed him a design and asked if he could manufacture the Insect Inferno. Now, the units are sold all over the United States. The heat to kill the bedbugs in furniture is supplied by a propane burner and power for the unit is supplied by a built-in generator. Sue and Corey designed a computer program that measures the heat of the probes that seek out bedbugs hidden inside furniture and mattresses to show when the kill temperature has been achieved.
Sue said they enjoy showing off their services at the Women's Expo because they always get a good crowd and their business is successful.
"It's booming, and we love what we do," she said. "I could talk about bugs all day.