Penn State Startup ConidioTec Expands Distribution to 50 States and Canada
Born out of research conducted in the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences by Associate Research Professor Dr. Nina Jenkins, ConidioTec‘s patented bed bug control product, Aprehend®, is now available in all 50 states and Canada. Aprehend® offers a single, long-lasting application when sprayed as a barrier in areas where bed bugs walk. When the bed bugs cross the barrier, the fungal spores stick to the bug’s body and are taken back to the harborage where they transfer among the bed bug population. The spores germinate on the bug’s cuticle and infect the bug. Aprehend® is non-toxic and received unconditional approval from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2017.
After patenting the technology through the Penn State Office of Technology Management, Dr. Jenkins and the team entered the Ben Franklin TechCelerator@StateCollege in 2013 and quickly found success, winning that cohort’s pitch competition and $10,000 in funding. Dr. Jenkins also participated in the 2018 Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference Tech Tournament where the startup won $10,000 and the People’s Choice award decided by audience voting. ConidioTec also received $196,619 in funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners that same year.
Since we last wrote about ConidioTec in 2018, the company established manufacturing in Centre Hall in Happy Valley, obtained state by state certification to distribute and use Aprehend® in all 50 U.S. states and Canada, and completed more than 100,000 bed bug treatments.
We recently spoke with ConidioTec CEO, Don McCandless, about the successes and challenges they’ve faced, the benefits of being based in Centre County, and how Invent Penn State supported their growth.
Q: What has been ConidioTec’s biggest success over the last year?
Our biggest success in the past year has been landing a contract with one of the Top 10 Pest Control Companies in the United States. After working with them since our product launch in October 2017, in March 2020 they decided to invest heavily in almost 2,000 spray kits for their technicians (these kits are required to apply Aprehend®). Once these kits are released to the regional offices, it will have a significant impact on Aprehend® sales into the market.
The other significant driver in 2020 has been the April regulatory approval of Aprehend® in the Canadian market. We were able to start shipping in June after finalizing and preparing all the necessary bi-lingual labeling and documentation.
Q: What has been ConidioTec’s biggest challenge or obstacle?
Our biggest challenge has been supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19. Specific items such as bottles and caps have had lead times extend to 17 months in some cases, and all products are impacted by increasing timelines and costs in shipping (especially anything coming from overseas). We have also seen extended times for products to clear customs.
Q: ConidioTec is now available in all 50 states and Canada. What were the major hurdles your team faced in getting cleared to use Aprehend® across North America?
The first challenge was generating the data and preparing a technical dossier for EPA review, since this is a biopesticide that is subject to regulatory approval. Once the EPA registers the product at the federal level, then a company applies to each individual state for their regulatory approval. This requires a significant time commitment in order to stay compliant and can also be expensive for a startup to manage the cash and renewals on an annual (some bi-annual) basis. This same process had to be followed in the Canadian market on the federal level, but fortunately they do not have the province-by-province approval necessary. Canada has the added requirement of bilingual labeling, which required significant heroics to get twice as many words on the same sized label, as well as the translation efforts to make sure all of the information is both clear and accurate.
Q: What are the advantages to being headquartered in Happy Valley?
I think that Centre County is ideal for our operations for a couple of reasons. First, operating costs are reasonable compared to major metropolitan areas. Second, we’re close to the University, when we need access to expertise or collaboration. And third, the quality of life is very attractive. You can drive across town in 10-15 minutes, there’s no traffic, the educational system is top-notch, airport is adequate, and you can drive to the major metropolitan centers of the NE in 4 hours or less.
Q: What was the most beneficial support ConidioTec received from Invent Penn State?
Early financial support through the College of Agriculture’s RAIN grants, Ben Franklin TechCelerator business support, and Ben Franklin loan programs. All of these programs provided a boost for early product development and customer discovery. This is THE biggest challenge that researchers face when trying to understand the viability of converting “research” into a sellable product or service.
Q: What advice would you give to Penn State faculty and researchers interested in launching a startup based on their work at Penn State?
- Prototype – A lot!
- Field testing by customers – critical!
- Design for industry specs/needs, not research publication needs.
Find out what potential customers (not other researchers) think about your proposed product or service and work hard to develop a minimum viable product (MVP) that can be demonstrated and tested as a proof of concept. The more feedback that can be gained during this stage (both positive and negative feedback) the more likely you’ll be able to make a decision on whether the idea is actually viable in the marketplace. There is a ton of fascinating research that never becomes viable in the market because it cannot be developed at scale or to the specs that are required for implementation into industry norms. But that’s why it’s important to prototype, test, and just keep trying!
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add or mention about ConidioTec and/or the resources at Invent Penn State?
Take advantage of all the resources that are available in this community. There are people with decades of experience that can jump start your efforts if you seek them out and do the work. Ben Franklin Tech Partners, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank, the Chamber of Business & Industry Centre County (CBICC) – all of these organizations add something to the mix IF you use (and listen to…) them.