Posted: February 15, 2018

Startup company from research discovery expects to be profitable in 2018.

A new, safe treatment for bed bugs discovered by entomologist Dr. Nina Jenkins is already seeing a strong sales response from pest application professionals in the few months since it hit the market.

"Many of them have seen a boom in their bed bug business these past few years, and are looking for leading edge technology," said Don McCandless, CEO of ConidioTec, the company formed around Jenkins' discovery.

Jenkins, an entomologist at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, discovered that a fungal spore effectively kills bed bugs. Infestations of the bed bug pests have been rising. While they do not carry diseases, bed bugs feed on human blood as they move from one life stage to the next.

Road to Commercialization

Jenkins and her team have been marching to commercialize the discovery since 2013. They've learned and setup the business, done extensive testing, developed the formulation and delivery system, secured Environmental Protection Agency approval, hired a CEO, and setup a production facility and office in Centre Hall.

"This really has been quite a journey," said Jenkins. "I have learned so much over the past five years, and have benefitted from the assistance so many people."

Jenkins noted assistance from Matt Smith at the Office of Technology Management, Gary Thompson and his team from the College of Agricultural Sciences, the Ben Franklin TechCelerator team (including Don McCandless when he occupied that role), and Tyler Etter at Penn State Law Clinic at the Happy Valley LaunchBox "to name but a few."

These, plus overall support from Invent Penn State helped the team commercialize the technology.

"It's been quite a ride, and I have enjoyed every minute of it," said Jenkins.

Potential Game-Changer

The proprietory formulation keeps the spores alive on the sprayed surface for three months, and ensures their efficacy in low-humidity conditions. Tests have not shown any adverse effects on people or pets.

Now, Jenkins and her company, ConidioTec, might just have a game-changer on their hands. They expect to be profitable this year.

The number of bed bug infestations is still rising, reported Orkin in January. "They continue to invade our homes and businesses on a regular basis because they are not seasonal pests, and only need blood to survive," said Orkin entomologist Dr. Tim Husen in a company statement.

Apartments/condominiums, single-family homes and hotels/models are the top three types of places where pest professionals report finding bed bugs, according to the National Pest Management Association.

"Any type of home is prone to bud begs. It has nothing to do with sanitation. We have treated for bed bugs everywhere, from newly built upscale homes to public housing," said Husen.

Quickly Filling Orders

Jenkins, Giovani Bellicanta, Chief Operating Officer, and McCandless are swiftly mixing, bottling and shipping orders of the formulation from their Centre Hall location.

The EPA approved the product last March. It will soon have regulatory approval to ship to all U.S. states except New York and California and is working on approvals in those two states plus Canada.

In late October, the ConidioTec team launched Aprehend in Baltimore at Pestworld, a trade show for pest control professionals. Aprehend is sold to licensed pest control operators only, not to consumers.

"We were considered very hot at the show," said McCandless. "We came back on Monday, recovered and on Tuesday we were shipping product."

"It could not have unfolded any better than it did in terms of getting exposure at the show and good feedback," said McCandless.

How Aprehend Works

The product is sprayed in a band along box-springs, baseboards, headboards and other places where bed bugs walk. As bedbugs cross the band, the spores stick to them -- "like grains of sand on wet feet" -- and are carried back to the bed bug hiding places, known as harborages.

The spores kill bed bugs within four to 10 days following contact with a treated surface.

In 2017, the Chamber of Business & Industry recognized ConidioTec as "Startup of the Year" at its awards gala on Dec. 7.

Pittsburgh television news station KDKA also aired a segment on its local news broadcast Nov. 20.

"In terms of validation of the concept," said McCandless, "the product worked, the spray kits worked, people are happy with the results and people are starting to re-order, which is also a good sign. Everybody who's tried it is ecstatic with the results," he said.

ConidioTec has been supported by:

  • $150,000 from committed investors
  • a $49,576 RAIN grant from the Research Applications for Innovation program, part of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program at the College of Agricultural Sciences.
  • $50,000 Penn State Founders' Investment
  • $40,000 USDA funds 2012-2014
  • $25,000 Ben Franklin Big Idea Contest in 2014
  • $21,000 USDA funds 2012-2013
  • $10,000 Ben Franklin TechCelerator in 2013
  • $5,000 Penn State Innovation Programs Discovered and Developed in PA R&D grant in 2014
  • $2,500 North Carolina Biotech business pitch prize in 2014
  • $150,000 Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA, 2016-17

Photo caption:

The ConidioTec team, L to R: CEO Don McCandless, COO Giovani Bellicanta, CTO Dr. Nina Jenkins and Co-inventor Prof. Matt Thomas. ConidioTec is seeing strong sales of its safe bed bug treatment, Aprehend. Photo from the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Showcase event in November 2017. Photo by Jim Harding, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.