When Mike Lindsey and his family traveled to Mexico in 2008 for Christmas, they brought home more than memories. Bedbugs, the subject of this week's cover story, "Bug Bedlam," hitched a ride from their rental house to the Lindseys' Fort Collins home.
And they took up residence in the family's beds.
"We came back and my wife started complaining of spiders, just saying, 'I got a little bite here,'" Lindsey recalls. It took months for them to figure out what was really going on -- an ordeal that inspired Lindsey to create a company called BedBug Boxes and invent a do-it-yourself bug-killing device called ThermalStrike.
It didn't become clear that the Lindseys had bedbugs until Memorial Day weekend -- nearly six months after their Mexico trip. Part of the reason, Lindsey says, is that like an estimated 50 percent of the population, he didn't have any reaction to the bedbug bites. Only his wife was getting itchy red welts.
But after the family returned home from a long-weekend trip to Oklahoma, the bugs were starving. As Lindsey and his wife lay in bed, watching TV, one brave bedbug crawled out from its hiding spot and crept across the covers, looking for a meal.
"All of a sudden, up and over the sheets, this bug came crawling toward us," Lindsey recalls. "They only feed once a week or so, so since we were gone for so long, this was a really hungry bug."
Lindsey caught it and killed it, figuring it was a tick. But a few minutes later, another one ventured toward them. This time, he caught it and rushed to the computer. The internet confirmed that it was a bedbug.
"Once we identified it, we started calling exterminators," he says. It took five treatments over a month and a half to eradicate the bugs. In the meantime, Lindsey did twenty-one garbage bags full of laundry; hot water and the heat of the dryer will kill bedbugs.
While all this was happening, Lindsey was finishing his last semester at Colorado State University, earning an MBA. An engineer, he'd always wanted to become a successful entrepreneur, and his personal battle against bedbugs inspired him to make a product that was inexpensive, easy to use and, he says, 100-percent effective against bedbugs.
ThermalStrike is a sturdy box lined with a patent-pending heat film. When you plug the box into an electrical socket, the film evenly heats up the contents of the box to 140 degrees. Eight hours at that temperature will kill bedbugs and their eggs, Lindsey says.
Right now, the box is only available in one size: the traveler edition, which is big enough to fit a piece of carry-on luggage -- or a garbage bag or two full of clothes or stuffed animals. Lindsey began selling it on Amazon.com last week for $94.99; as of today, there are only four left.
"I wanted it to be affordable to as many people as possible," he says.
By the end of the month, Lindsey plans to also sell a bigger version that can fit a large, family-sized suitcase inside for $159. And he's hoping to roll out a ThermalStrike big enough for an entire mattress by the summer.
"It's a real simple enclosure," he says. "The tack that I took is, there's some expensive products out there. But people aren't really looking for the box that they're going to pass on to their grandkids. They're looking for something they can have right now."
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ThermalStrike recently took second place in the "start-up ventures" category at the University of Northern Colorado Monfort College of Business Entrepreneurial Challenge. The prize was $5,000, money Lindsey will use to manufacture and market his product.
"I wanted to design something that would let people go out into the world and do what you want to do, but know that you're not bringing things back with you," he says.
Especially creepy, bloodsucking things.