SEATTLE -- In a warehouse in Georgetown, a group of young minds have come up with one killer idea.
The concept "hatched" from a conversation at a Seattle Opera event about two years go. Two strangers, standing in line for a cocktail, struck up a conversation. Some might call the topic taboo; Andrew Havlis hopes it helps -- and makes -- millions.
"The reaction is very polarizing. Some people are like, 'That's very interesting,' and some people -- you can see them visibly shrink away," Havlis said, laughing, "as if I was carrying bed bugs on myself."
Havlis actually had bed bugs about two and a half years ago after they migrated from a neighbor's apartment down the electrical wiring in his building in downtown Seattle.
"I'm reading in bed (that night)," he remembered, "and this little bug ran across the pages of my book, and I slammed it shut and said, 'What the hell was that?!'"
"I learned how incredibly difficult they are to get rid of," he added. "I didn't sleep much."
Fast forward a few months to that chance meeting at the opera with Cameron Wheeler, a recent Washington State graduate who was looking to get into a startup. Havlis told him of his experience with bed bugs; Wheeler, an engineering major, thought maybe he could build something to help with the problem.
"It's such a taboo subject. There aren't a lot of solutions out there," he said. "With my background in chemical engineering I knew I could easily design a box that heated things up."
Together, the pair learned that bed bugs in all stages die at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. They hired a designer to help with a prototype -- someone who had designed clothing for Nordstrom. A couple of models and a couple years later, the ZappBug Oven was born.
"It's portable. It's collapsible. You can take outside and clean it," Wheeler said, showing how the oven pops-up, much like a foldable cloth hamper. It attaches to a small portable heater that nukes the contents inside -- from clothing to luggage to small furniture.
"The oven in your kitchen, I'm not sure it goes down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit," Wheeler said, "(and) people don't like the idea of eating where their bed bugs are."
Most of the startup's customers have been in the New York and New Jersey markets. Wheeler thinks that's because the topic is less taboo there -- not because bed bugs are more prevalent. (Seattle recently ranked #13 in the country on a list of worst bed bug cities)
The ZappBug oven retails on Amazon for about $500; Havlis and Wheeler will tell you, from his experience, that a good nights' sleep -- sans company -- is priceless.
"I talked to a lady sleeping in her bathtub and crying. I talked to another lady who put a tent on top of her bed and sleeping in her tent," Wheeler said. "Another one -- her boyfriend broke up with her because she got bed bugs and he said you can't get rid of them and I'm never going to see you again."
"This kind of thing happens all the time and we're providing an awesome solution for people," he added.
The company is currently developing a room-sized "oven" that would fit larger items and furniture.