When 17-year-old Henry Hurowitz fell asleep on an airplane tray table and woke up with a severe rash on his face, he was determined to find out what happened and started doing research.
It turns out that the germs on those tray tables last way longer than the snacks and beverages they hold, and Hurowitz decided to do something about it.
And that was before the pandemic hit.
He and his Junior Achievement of South Florida club members created Germ Genie™, a travel kit filled with TSA-compliant essentials for staying germ-free, including tray table placemats which have become their signature item – and which have become even more important since COVID-19.
Here’s what Hurowitz has to say about making germ-free travel simple and accessible to everyone.
Germ Genie™ is such a great idea. How did it come about?
After falling asleep on an airplane tray table in July 2019, I woke up with a terrible rash on my face. I looked into it and was shocked to discover that they are actually eight times dirtier than a toilet flush button. Studies show that tray tables have contained cold viruses, human parainfluenza viruses, norovirus, the superbug MRSA and, most recently, COVID-19. But there were very limited solutions, which led to the idea of the Airplane Tray Table Placemat.
I teamed up with my peers at NSU University School to start Germ Genie™ Products, LLC. We started selling both the Germ Genie™ Tray Table Placemats and the expanded Germ Genie™ Premium Package last November.
In January, when the coronavirus pandemic began in the United States, we added an upgraded premium package that includes N95 masks. COVID-19 is a worldwide wake-up call and we’re convinced that people will never look at germs the same way again.
Tell us about the Tray Table Placemat.
The Germ Genie™ Airplane Tray Table Placemat was our first Germ Genie™ product. It 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 ensure it remains securely in place. The 12”x18” size allows the user to fold and stick the placemat over most tray table edges for extra protection. They’re conveniently packaged in an 8”x10” resealable bag containing 15 placemats.
Why did you decide to expand your product line?
We understood that navigating through a world full of dangerous germs, bacteria, and allergens is tricky, so we wanted to create a product that would fix this problem. The Germ Genie™ Premium Package is a compact, reusable pouch filled with products that provide all the essentials for staying germ-free on the go: a package of 15 Airplane Tray Table Covers, two medical face masks, a package of 10 disinfecting surface wipes, four latex-free gloves, a 1.8oz bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer (62% alcohol-based), and a headrest cover. It’s compact, lightweight and can easily be stored in any luggage, backpack, purse, briefcase, car glove compartment or handbag. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, we also offer upgrade options for kits that include either one or two N95 masks for extra protection. To prevent the spread of disease on commercial aircrafts, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using hand sanitizer regularly, wearing gloves when touching contaminated surfaces, and wearing a facemask. Our kit contains all three prevention products and more!
What were some of the most surprising facts/statistics you learned about germs and travel?
- Dr Jay Jin, Mayo Clinic researcher, found the highest levels of peanut protein on tray tables on flights where peanuts were served. In fact, it was greater than the amount of peanut dust found on the tabletops of a restaurant where peanuts can be shelled and eaten at the table.
- “Commercial air transport is potentially an efficient means for spreading communicable disease widely by surface contact and proximity to infected people,” the World Health Organization cautions in its Guide to Hygiene and Sanitation in Aviation.
- An airplane seat’s headrest may be the germiest surface on the plane, with some testing positive for E. coli bacteria, according to an analysis done by “Marketplace,” a CBC consumer news series.
Tell us a little 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 would create gadgets and sell them to my friends. Entrepreneurship makes me feel like a detective. I like to find a problem and then try and hunt down a solution.
In eighth grade, I started a nonprofit organization that I continue to run today. When I learned the severity of food insecurity in America — while simultaneously discovering that 40% of food in America is thrown away each year — I knew I wanted to do something to help. I founded FoodEASE, a volunteer-based organization whose goal is to help fight hunger while reducing food waste in our community. Our team (which is comprised of about 25 volunteers) rescues fresh, healthy food that is un-sellable but still perfectly good to eat from hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets, and distributes it to community organizations that serve those in need. Since June of 2019, FoodEASE has donated approximately 30,000 pounds of food, helping feed over 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 an additional 20,000 meals to recently unemployed hospitality workers in the Miami area.
In tenth grade, I founded another business venture, Stadium Bags USA, after the Stoneman Douglas shootings, which occurred very close to my home. In order to provide a safer environment for the public, most major entertainment and athletics venues had implemented a clear bag policy. Stadium Bags USA sold clear plastic bags for men and women that comply with this policy. At first, because I was early to the market, the business boomed. But then designer brands and large companies started making similar products, and unfortunately, I couldn’t keep up with the latest designer trends. I poured my heart and soul into the business but soon realized that not all businesses are successful and my company couldn’t survive.
What’s been the most challenging part of creating your business?
Supply chain management has been the most challenging aspect of creating Germ Genie™. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 we sold out of all of our inventory and had to restock. Many of our products were being produced in China, and we knew we had to quickly find new manufacturers because some of our original manufacturers were not able to function at regular capacity. My team and I worked tirelessly for weeks.
How did your age impact the development of the business?
Juggling school, lacrosse, speech and debate, studying for the SATs, friends, and my entrepreneurial ventures has not been easy. Staying up late to study and work on Germ Genie™ has become my new normal. I pour my heart and soul into Germ Genie™ and spend every free moment I have trying to make our company better. 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 guidance.
I know your company gives back, which is something many people look for now. How did you pick the charities you support?
As a company, we decided from the beginning that our priority would always be to help our local community. We spent a lot of time researching various organizations before ultimately choosing to support Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital (JDCH) and Junior Achievement (JA) of South Florida, which each receive 10% of our profits.
Through our donation to JDCH we know that we will be helping those children in our community who are most at risk of contracting an illness from unwanted germs. And through our donation to JA South Florida, we are proud to empower other young entrepreneurs to start their own socially responsible businesses.
Recently, we also started an initiative to help first responders. Germ Genie™ has pledged to provide hundreds of safety kits to first responders who are putting themselves at risk every day without proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Each safety kit includes one bottle of hand sanitizer, four non-latex gloves, two medical masks, and one KN95 mask.