I’ve always felt like I was an entrepreneur, mostly because I liked finding better ways to do things, and sharing that with people. Maybe there’s no distinction, but cliche-wise, I’d rather start at the ground floor than start at the bottom of the totem pole. And in early 2008, I had a spark. I was 15 at a high school party. After I’d finished telling every girl about my driving skills a few weeks before my license test, my buddy Kyle and I were sitting on a curb figuring out how we’d get home. Kyle said to me “Dude, there should be an app on your phone where you press a button, and someone will come pick you up, even if you’re like…drunk.” It clicked–but we were 15 and had no clue where to start. We tried, kind of, and I’m not sure where Travis Kalanick was that night, but he founded UberCab in March 2009. Now, Uber is worth $72 billion-ish.
So, onto the next one. Now it’s 2011 and I’m a “mini-Ivy”, D3 student-athlete hoping to get drafted by an MLB team, but realistically searching for inspiration.
My father, who’s a physician, became familiar with hospital practices of using Ultraviolet light, specifically Ultraviolet-C, as a way to disinfect. They would use it for tools, surfaces, water, air and rooms. Outside hospitals and tanning beds, though, most people aren’t really familiar with UV.
My sister played club volleyball at a high level, so as a family, we kept an eye on the volleyball world. Sometime in 2009, the NCAA announced there would be no handshakes before and after volleyball matches due to swine flu.
My dad, MD, thought if they really wanted to limit exposure, they certainly needed to sanitize the one thing everyone touched all the time, the ball. We rigged up a barbecue-sized UV chamber. Drop the ball in the chamber, it rolls through with all surfaces exposed to germicidal UVC light, and it pops out the other side sanitized. It worked!
Volleyballs, basketballs, indoor gym balls–disinfected in seconds. It was and still is a great idea and a great product. At the time, Mom and Dad were busy with careers (plus long distance parenting), and my sister and I were both NCAA student-athletes. Nobody had time to lead the project, so we licensed it to a company that makes scoreboards and bleachers, and already had distribution set up.
At that time, we were regularly flying cross country for holiday breaks, visits, and games. My routine on planes: do whatever is necessary to fall asleep before takeoff and don’t wake up until touchdown.
Once though, before I buckled in, a nice woman sitting next to me offered a hand-wipe, “Would you like one to wipe down your seat?” I said no, thank you.
She pushed: “It’s flu season.” That was enough, I accepted, wiped my tray table and closed my eyes.
Dad picks me up at the airport and I tell him this meaningless little story. He gave me a look, and told me look up how airlines disinfect, like he already saw it and was waiting for me to get there. THEY DIDN’T. Airlines barely clean and they never properly sanitize the passenger surfaces. We found it, a hole, a gap, a tiny little space. And we were already innovating with UVC.
Airlines are not required to do any cleaning, ever. Between flights, cleaning crews come on and in 4-6 minutes pick up as much trash and wipe up any spill or schmutz they can find–then they’re done.
The more we researched the bigger, and more unaddressed, the problem appeared to be.
Harvard: There is a direct correlation between air passenger volume during the holidays, and the timing and severity of flu season.
Auburn: Bacteria and viruses can survive 7 days on airplane surfaces.
CDC: Flight attendants report sick days twice as often as school teachers and 4x more than office workers.
US Government Accountability Office: A comprehensive federal plan is needed for the US aviation system’s preparedness for the outbreak of communicable diseases.
This is a huge problem, and we created a fast, affordable, convenient and effective system to help solve it. Everyday airplanes carry unique groups of passengers to all corners of the world and never properly disinfect the cabin’s interior surfaces. GermFalcon is the first system built specifically for airplane disinfection. The proprietary design and operability makes it a convenient step for airlines toward routine risk prevention and emergency preparedness.
If you’re wondering: Kyle and I remain close friends. He is a teacher and we still bounce ideas off each other frequently.
Just an anecdote. More content-heavy posts to come.
Elliot Mo K.