A 17-year-old’s hygienic product line foreshadowed the COVID pandemic
In a perfect world, Henry Hurowitz’s invention wouldn’t be necessary. “If our company became obsolete, that would be the best solution to the problem,” he says. “[We’re not] trying to price-gouge or anything. We’re really trying to push our mission onto the world to stay germ-free on the go because it’s so dangerous.”
Hurowitz, a senior at University School in Davie, is speaking about Germ Genie, the line of hygiene products he introduced into the market in December 2019. Its first rollout was the Tray Table Placemat, a sanitary mat designed to cover airplane tray tables, which are the equivalent of airborne petri dishes. He followed it with a Travel Pack of TSA-compliant sanitation tools—two medical face masks, 10 disinfectant wipes, two gloves, a bottle of hand sanitizer, an airplane seat headrest cover, and 15 Tray Table Placemats.
In business as in much of life, timing is everything. In launching his company months before the coronavirus pandemic caused a run on such products, the teenage CEO has capitalized on a combination of happenstance and foresight.
“We’ve been realizing that through COVID-19, people have been changing,” he says. “It’s really a worldwide wakeup call about the idea of germs. People before COVID … didn’t see the impact germs could have on their lives. Now they’re like, Oh my God, this is such a severe issue—I need to stay clean. I don’t want to touch anything in the airport or a bus or a train.”
For Hurowitz, the idea germinated, literally, on a plane. He fell asleep on a tray table and awoke with a rash on his face that didn’t subside for days. That led to the research that informed his decision to start Germ Genie. “I found out that tray tables are eight times dirtier than a toilet flush button,” he recalls. “And I started researching solutions so future passengers who did travel on airplanes felt safe while using their tray tables.”
Hurowitz credits his entrepreneurial spirit to his time as a member of Junior Achievement Fellows, and he is quick to credit his student partners in the development of Germ Genie—Daniel Gutkin, Romy Peretz, Benjamin Sterne and Jonah Lubin—and the 75 shareholders who invested into Germ Genie in its inception.
“In six months, we had $45,000 in revenue, and gave each of our shareholders close to 200 percent ROI,” Hurowitz says. “That’s including giving back $2,500 to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and $1,500 to Junior Achievement to give future young entrepreneurs the same opportunity we have.”
A speech-and-debate student who hopes to enter undergraduate business school, Hurowitz already speaks with the polish of a confident pitchman, and one can imagine him wowing a Shark Tank panel. He’s already sold bulk orders to AutoNation (1,000 travel kits), and is in negotiations with a major airline. He expects to continue developing products.
“I couldn’t imagine not having Germ Genie a part of my life, or just spreading the message about germs,” he says, adding that, “although this was a very rewarding experience and taught me a lot about the business and entrepreneurship process, there’s a lot that I still don’t know. And I’m constantly learning on the go.
“I just never imagined, when I fell asleep on my tray table, that it would have the impact it has had today.”