This 17-year-old entrepreneur helps travel germ-free
When Henry Hurowitz, 17, fell asleep on an airplane tray table and woke up with a severe rash on his face, he was determined to find out what had happened and began to do research.
Turns out the sprouts on these platters outlast the snacks and drinks on them, and Hurowitz decided to do something about it.
And that was before the pandemic hit.
He and his members of the Junior Achievement of South Florida club created Genie ™ Germ, a travel kit filled with TSA-compliant essentials to stay germ-free, including tray placemats that have become their signature item – and that have become even more important since COVID-19.
Here’s what Hurowitz has to say about making germ-free travel easy and accessible for everyone.
Germ Genie ™ is such a great idea. How did it happen?
After falling asleep on an airplane tray table in July 2019, I woke up with a terrible rash on my face. I examined it and was shocked to find that they are actually eight times dirtier than a toilet flush button. Studies show that the trays contained cold viruses, human parainfluenza viruses, noroviruses, the superbug MRSA and, more recently, COVID-19. But there were very limited solutions, which led to the idea of the Plane Tray Placemat.
I teamed up with my peers at NSU University School to launch Germ Genie ™ Products, LLC. We started selling both the Germ Genie ™ Tray Placemats and enlargement Germ Genie ™ Premium Packe last November.
In January, when the coronavirus pandemic began in the United States, we added an improved premium package that includes N95 masks. COVID-19 is a global wake-up call and we’re confident people will never see germs the same way again.
Tell us about the Plateau Table Set.
The Germ Genie ™ Airplane Tray Table placemat was our first Genie ™ Germ product. This is a disposable protective cover that fits over a standard tray table and provides an instant hygienic surface. There are adhesive strips on all four sides of the placemat to make sure it stays in place. The 12 “x 18” size allows the user to fold and glue the placemat to most edges of the tabletop for extra protection. They are conveniently packaged in a resealable 8 “x 10” bag containing 15 placemats.
Why did you decide to expand your product line?
We understood that it was difficult to navigate a world filled with dangerous germs, bacteria and allergens, so we wanted to create a product that would solve this problem. the Germ Genie ™ Premium Set is a compact, reusable pouch filled with products that provide all the essentials to stay germ-free on the go: a 15-pack of airplane tray table covers, two medical masks, a 10-pack of surface disinfectant wipes, four latex-free gloves, a 1.8 oz bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer (62% alcohol based) and a headrest cover. It is compact, lightweight and can easily be stowed in any luggage, backpack, purse, briefcase, car glove box or purse. Since the coronavirus outbreak, we are also offering upgrade options for kits that include one or two N95 masks for additional protection. To prevent the spread of disease on commercial airplanes, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using regular hand sanitizer, wearing gloves when touching contaminated surfaces, and wearing a face shield. Our kit contains all three prevention products and more!
What are the most surprising facts / statistics you’ve learned about germs and travel?
- Dr Jay Jin, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, found the highest levels of peanut protein on the trays of flights where peanuts were served. In fact, it was greater than the amount of peanut dust found on restaurant tables where peanuts can be shelled and eaten at the table.
- “Commercial air transport is potentially an effective means of widely spreading diseases transmissible through surface contact and proximity to infected people,” warns the World Health Organization in its Aviation Hygiene and Sanitation Guide.
- The headrest of an airplane seat may be the most germinated surface on the plane, with some tests positive for E. coli bacteria, according to an analysis carried out by “Marketplace, A CBC consumer news series.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you became a successful entrepreneur at such a young age.
I have always had a strong passion for entrepreneurship. In elementary school, I made gadgets and sold them to my friends. Entrepreneurship makes me feel like a detective. I like to find a problem and then try to find a solution.
In eighth grade, I started a non-profit organization that I continue to lead today. When I learned about the severity of food insecurity in America – while simultaneously discovering that 40% of the food in America is thrown away each year – I knew I wanted to do something to help. I founded FoodEASE, a voluntary organization whose goal is to help fight hunger while reducing food waste in our community. Our team (made up of approximately 25 volunteers) collects fresh and healthy unsaleable but still perfectly good food to eat from hotels, restaurants and supermarkets, and distributes them to community organizations that serve those in need. As of June 2019, FoodEASE has donated approximately 30,000 pounds of food, helping to feed more than 25,000 people. Thanks to a donation from Tiller & Hatch, a new frozen meal brand co-founded by Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez, FoodEASE was able to distribute 20,000 additional meals to recently unemployed hotel workers in the Miami area.
In tenth grade, I started another business, Stadium Bags USA, after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, which happened just outside my home. In order to provide a safer environment for the public, most of the major entertainment and athletics venues had a clear bag policy in place. Stadium Bags USA has sold clear plastic bags for men and women that comply with this policy. At first, because I was ahead of the market, the business exploded. But then designer brands and big companies started making similar products and unfortunately I couldn’t keep up with the latest designer trends. I put my heart and soul into the business, but soon realized that not all businesses succeed and my business could not survive.
What has been the hardest part of building your business?
Supply chain management was the hardest part of creating Genie ™ Germ. Following the COVID-19 epidemic, we sold all of our stocks and had to restock. Many of our products were made in China, and we knew we had to find new manufacturers quickly as some of our original manufacturers were unable to operate at full capacity. My team and I worked tirelessly for weeks.
What was the impact of your age on the development of the company?
Juggling between school, lacrosse, speech and debate, studying for the SAT, friends and my business projects was not easy. Staying up late to study and work on Germ Genie ™ has become my new normal. I pour my heart and soul into Genie ™ Germ and spend every free moment I have trying to improve our business. I believe my age has worked in my favor. I have found that more seasoned entrepreneurs have appreciated my entrepreneurial spirit and have been extremely generous with their time and advice.
I know your business is giving back which is what a lot of people are looking for now. How did you choose the associations you support?
As a company, we decided from the start that our priority would always be to help our local community. We spent a lot of time researching various organizations before finally choosing to support Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital (JDCH) and Junior Achievement (JA) in South Florida, who each receive 10% of our profits.
Thanks to our donation to JDCH, we know that we will help children in our community who are most at risk of contracting illnesses from unwanted germs. And with our donation to JA South Florida, we’re proud to empower other young entrepreneurs to start their own socially responsible businesses.
Recently, we also launched an initiative to help first responders. Genie ™ Germ is committed to providing hundreds of safety kits to first responders who put themselves at risk every day without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Each safety kit includes a bottle of hand sanitizer, four latex-free gloves, two medical masks and a KN95 mask.