Meet our 12th Annual GrowFL Florida Companies to Watch Honorees!

Celebrate with us! Tickets on sale for the annual awards celebration on Thursday, February 23, 2023.

Bug Bite Thing

St. Lucie County, Florida
Founded: 2018

As seen on Shark Tank, Bug Bite Thing, the chemical-free, reusable insect bite relief suction tool that retails for under $10, alleviates the stinging, itching, and swelling caused by insect bites and stings. The award-winning product is safe to use for all ages, and is Amazon’s #1 seller for insect bite relief with over 75,000 reviews.

Industry

Retail Trade

Employee Growth

1400% increase from 2018 – 2021

Revenue Growth

17181.4% increase from 2018 – 2021

Kelly Hginey 72dpi

Kelley Higney

Founder & CEO

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a third-generation female entrepreneur. I grew up in San Diego, California. My childhood memories include traveling to trade shows on the weekends, answering the phone at my mom, Ellen McAlister’s, office and eating dinner in the lunchroom. My upbringing taught me the value of hard work from a very young age and how to be a leader. For over fifteen years, I worked for our family business, A.C. Kerman, which specializes in the international export and distribution of outdoor gear. In 2013, my family moved cross-country from San Diego, California to South Florida, so I could be closer to my mother, as it was assumed I would eventually take over the business from her someday. 

Was there an ah-ha moment that led you to your entrepreneurial journey or where did the idea for your company come from?

Yes, one thing we were completely unprepared for when we moved to Florida was the mosquitoes! My daughter has a terrible reaction to mosquito bites. 

I was desperate; I had tried everything and nothing worked. I started researching how other countries were combatting insect bites. I came across a little-known tool that was being sold through industrial first aid kits in Europe. Not thinking much of it, I ordered it.

The day it came, I literally got a mosquito bite walking to my mailbox to get it— so I tried it and it worked! Within a matter of seconds, all the itching, swelling, and pain just disappeared. I started testing it on friends and family and it worked for them too. That was my ah-ha moment.

I learned about the science behind the product and why it was effective. When you remove the irritant, your body stops producing the reactions that cause symptoms like itching, swelling, and stinging. I couldn’t believe people didn’t know this product existed and I became a “Mom on a Mission.” I knew that I had to share Bug Bite Thing with the world and every mom and mosquito magnet, like me, needed to have one.

Did you know you always wanted to be a CEO/entrepreneur?

No. However, I do believe it is in my DNA. I started Bug Bite Thing out of necessity. I needed something that would offer my child relief because she is so allergic to mosquito bites. When I realized how much of a game changer it was for my family and then my friends, I felt that I had to share this incredible product with the world.

Tell us about your business and the value it brings to your customers.

As for the actual product itself, Bug Bite Thing is a suction tool that provides consumers with a safe, chemical-free solution to alleviate the symptoms caused by insect bites and stings. It is also reusable, safe to use on all ages (including babies and toddlers), and retails for under $10.

We are also focused on adding additional value to our customers by providing an exceptional customer experience. This has been a focal point since the beginning and it has has resulted in a loyal base of satisfied customers that I refer to as Bug Bite Thing’s cheerleaders.

These devoted customers have also helped by spreading the word about Bug Bite Thing, and the relief they’ve received from using the product. For example, we constantly see them commenting on other people’s social media posts about mosquito bites, recommending the product, and encouraging others to try Bug Bite Thing. In addition, we offer a 100% money-back guarantee, so there is no risk in trying the product. I want everyone to know that we stand behind its effectiveness.

What makes your company culture unique? 

Innovation is at the core of everything that we do. We hold company-wide meetings. I encourage all employees to bring new ideas to the table and everyone has the opportunity to contribute. It doesn’t matter your title or department. If a team member has an idea of how we can improve on something, we want to hear it.

We are a family business that has scaled very quickly. My mom is the president and my husband is the COO. I refer to all our employees as members of the Bug Bite Thing family. This high-growth stage also allows our team members the unique opportunity to learn first-hand how to scale a business when it reaches its next level.

The company’s rapid expansion also means there are constantly new needs within our different departments. Our goal is to provide a career path that allows employees to advance from within. We cover the cost of online education for our team members, allowing them to learn new skills and to excel.

We also take the time to celebrate the wins. Peer-to-peer recognition is an important part of our company culture. We hold a monthly event where employees can show appreciation for one another. They can shine a light on their colleagues’ accomplishments and on those who have gone above and beyond. There are prizes involved too!

What makes your company different than others in your market?

Bug Bite Thing is disrupting the insect bite relief industry. It is reusable, chemical-free and, unlike other over-the-counter remedies that mask the problem, it alleviates it by removing the irritant, stopping the body from producing the reactions.

Also, I’m not pushing sales. My goal has always been to educate people that there is a chemical-free solution to the problem and to help them, instead of focusing solely on profits. I want to provide everyone access to the same relief that Bug Bite Thing has provided for my family.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a business owner? How did you solve or overcome them?

One of my biggest challenges was explaining how to use the product correctly. I had to educate people about an insect bite relief product that was an entirely new concept. To effectively market the product to consumers, I had to develop new terminology to communicate how the tool worked, even inventing the term “suction tool.”

Using customers’ feedback, I made changes to instructions on the packaging and how I described the tool in marketing material. I also offered a 100 percent money-back guarantee from the beginning. I wanted people to take a chance, try the product, and know I stand behind its effectiveness.

How do you hope to see it grow in coming years?

Our goal at Bug Bite Thing is to expand our offering of safe, effective, chemical-free products in the insect bite relief category. Customer feedback has proven instrumental in driving our decisions, including which new colors to add each season, creating travel bag accessories and multipacks of the suction tool. In addition, we’ll continue to increase our retail presence domestically. We’ve added many new retail partners over the past few years, including Academy Sports + Outdoors, Ace Hardware, Big 5 Sporting Goods, Casey’s, Rite Aid, and The Home Depot. We look forward to many more and expanding beyond our 30,000 retail locations. Also, we’ll continue to stay heavily focused on international expansion. The product is now available in 34 countries. My goal is for it to be available in all 195 countries!

What has been your proudest moment as CEO?

There have been many! Going on Shark Tank in 2019, receiving offers from all of the Sharks, and accepting Lori Greiner’s “Golden Ticket” offer that she gives out once per season, is definitely a highlight. Then, being invited back on the show for an update episode in 2021 to share details on our success, including new retail partnerships and details on our international expansion. Becoming Amazon’s #1 seller with over 75,000 reviews and remaining a best-seller for the past four years is another proud accomplishment.

As a mother of two, I understand that mentorship from an early age is invaluable and I’m passionate about supporting the work of local South Florida youth organizations. Because of this, Bug Bite Thing has partnered with and made financial contributions to Girl Scouts of Southeast Florida and Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Lucie County, two community organizations focused on the next generation of potential entrepreneurs and innovators.

And back in January 2021, we made a $10,000 donation to Treasure Coast Food Bank to support local hunger-relief efforts and held a company-wide volunteer day at the food bank. During the pandemic, I’m grateful we could give back to those heavily impacted; Florida’s Treasure Coast reported a 200% increase in the demand for food assistance.

What does it mean to you to be selected as a FLCTW honoree? 

Being an honoree is an acknowledgment of our positive impact on the community, and our goal is further expansion and creating even more jobs. When I started Bug Bite Thing, it was just me. Now, we have over thirty employees. It creates excitement for our employees who are part of our journey and this is a result of their hard work.

It also is a reflection of our community leaders’ commitment to supporting growing businesses. St. Lucie Economic Development Council President, Pete Tesch, has been instrumental in positioning Bug Bite Thing to successfully scale during this high-growth stage.

Is there anyone special you’d like to thank?

My mother, Ellen McAlister, Bug Bite Thing’s president. She is an incredible role model and a successful businesswoman. She also gave me the best piece of advice that I apply to my business every day: “Find the angle to make every situation a win-win-win.”

Also, Kathryn Rudloff, Executive Director of weVENTURE. I first connected with Kathryn when I was named Female Small Business Owner of the Year by weVENTURE’s Women Who Rock Awards in 2021. weVENTURE is a program through the Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech Bisk College of Business that focuses on educating and mentoring entrepreneurs and women-owned small businesses in Florida’s Brevard, Indian River, and St. Lucie counties.

Bug Bite Thing is now an equity partner investor of the organization and has hosted an event with weVENTURE at Bug Bite Thing’s office. I also spoke at the IMPACT Summit this summer. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities Kathryn has provided Bug Bite Thing and the support and resources she provides for female entrepreneurs in our community.

What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Establish or join a networking group to connect with and support other entrepreneurs in the same stage as you are. There is tremendous value in having people who can guide and inspire you throughout your career.

Also, there is no one “right” path to entrepreneurship. Each person and situation is unique. Create your own path and make your business work for you and your community.

Thank you to our event sponsors: