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Business for Good: Germ Hero

A trio of entrepreneurs has brought their proprietary cleaning product to Philly to keep businesses clean and customers safe in the age of Covid-19

Business for Good: Germ Hero

A trio of entrepreneurs has brought their proprietary cleaning product to Philly to keep businesses clean and customers safe in the age of Covid-19

When demonstrating the disinfectant used by his company Germ Hero, Philly native Eric Zhivalyuk sprays it on an apple—then takes a bite.

VideoIt’s a demo that makes audiences cringe. From the time we’re kids, most of us are told to bedeck our disinfectants with poison stickers, not spray them in our mouths.

The disinfectant Zhivalyuk is using, however, isn’t your grandma’s Clorox or Lysol.

Instead, Germ Hero, the company Zhivalyuk and his co-founder, Ilija Cankovic, launched in Nevada in April, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, uses a non-toxic, EPA-certified, CDC-recommended disinfectant to help businesses and individuals keep themselves safe from the virus.

“The disinfectant we use is the only type that’s allowed in operating rooms,” Zhivalyuk says. “That’s how safe it is.” It’s made of a blend of germicidal, bactericidal, and virucidal disinfectants.

Now, Zhivalyuk has partnered with his brother, Nathan Zhivalyuk, to bring the business to Philadelphia. The company launched here last week and is in talks to set up services with retail giants like Dunkin Donuts, as well as smaller businesses.

How Germ Hero got its start

Germ Hero was born this spring, as the Covid-19 pandemic was ramping up nationwide. Zhivalyuk and Cankovic both choose to leave their corporate jobs—Zhivalyuk as a chief technology officer at a large trucking company, and Cankovic as a CFO with experience in multiple industries—and started brainstorming ways to create a business that would help people during the pandemic. The men had met when they worked for the same large mining and trucking company for two years and found they made a good team.

Do Something“I became passionate about being able to make a difference,” Zhivalyuk says. And he was no stranger to entrepreneurship: He’d previously created technology solutions for Fortune 500 companies and founded startups like the fintech app Merchant Slayer.

Zhivalyuk and Cankovic began buying and testing different disinfecting agents and application tools. They landed on a broad spectrum germicidal, bactericidal, a virucidal that is as effective as competitors like Clorox and Lysol, while also being EPA-certified, CDC- recommended, and safe to use on surfaces that come in contact with food.

Germ Hero uses electrostatic spraying and ultra low-volume atomized fogging to apply to disinfecting agents.

Say what now?

“First of all, it’s a great business model and, second of all, the opportunity to be able to help people, it’s just a perfect combination,” he says.

That is, with electrostatic spraying, liquid disinfectant particles are electrically charged, which allows them to bind together and wrap around objects, allowing for 360-degree coverage that fights surface transmission.

Ultra low-volume atomized fogging employs large volumes of low-pressure air to transform liquid disinfectants into droplets, which are then dispersed throughout the atmosphere to kill germs in the air, on walls, and in crevices and hard-to-reach areas.

Killing viral particles that linger in the air is particularly important when battling Covid-19, because the virus is thought to spread, in part, through smaller particles, known as aerosols, which can linger in the air for hours.

Custom HaloIn the early days of the pandemic, fears over surface transmission of the virus sent people Cloroxing their groceries and leaving packages in a separate room to quarantine for a few days. Early studies found that Covid-19 particles can remain on surfaces anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days. While newer research has indicated that surface transmission is less likely than airborne or droplet transmission, disinfecting rooms and surfaces is still a key way to curb the spread.

The virus tends to spread more easily in enclosed spaces, which can make people particularly wary of casually shopping in stores. Since the beginning of the pandemic, foot traffic has declined in most retail stores, and in Philadelphia the number of small businesses decreased by 40.8 percent during the pandemic’s peak in April.

“Local businesses are hurting,” Zhivalyuk says. “We create a game plan for them.”

How Germ Hero helps local businesses

To help struggling businesses increase foot traffic, Zhivalyuk and Cankovic developed the Germ Hero-verified program: Businesses that participate receive a Germ Hero-verified shield, which they can hang around their storefronts to show consumers that they’ve been recently disinfected.

Each shield features a QR code, which allows consumers to quickly look up the date of the last cleaning and information about how long Germ Hero’s disinfectant continues to kill germs on surfaces. The disinfectant Germ Hero uses can continue to fight and kill germs for up to 30 days after the treatment, though they recommend that high-touch surfaces be disinfected more frequently.

Part of expanding the business post-pandemic means getting the disinfectant Germ Hero uses on the shelf in front of consumers.

As part of the program, Germ Hero also creates marketing materials for the businesses they work with, so that they can inform consumers about the efforts they’re taking to ensure a safe environment during Covid-19, and they’ve created a Germ Hero-verified business directory to help consumers locate these businesses. They’ve also offered a free, one-time disinfection to businesses that are struggling.

“We take video, we take photos, and we hand that over to [business owners] and tell them You can share this. Put a link on your site, put it in your blog or your Facebook, and let the world know you’re a Germ Hero-verified business,” Zhivalyuk says.

Expanding to Philadelphia

Zhivalyuk and Cankovic used their savings to launch the company, and Nathan came in as their first investor; they’re open to having additional investors as the company grows.

Their services are priced at 20 cents per square foot for a residential space and 25 cents per square foot for commercial spaces. In Las Vegas, they’ve already worked with nearly 1,000 businesses. They expect to see profitable earnings within two to three months. .

Nathan Zhivalyuk jokes that he joined the business because his brother’s passion was, um, contagious.

“First of all, it’s a great business model and, second of all, the opportunity to be able to help people, it’s just a perfect combination,” he says.

Read MoreNathan’s investment allowed the company to expand to Philadelphia, a city they chose both because it is where the brothers grew up, and because it allows easy access to other East Coast cities, many of which were Covid-19 hotspots at the beginning of the pandemic. Many of these areas, including Philly, are now seeing increases in cases; case counts here have risen 300 percent since September.

“There’s a lot more fear on the East Coast than there is on the West Coast as far as what I’ve seen,” Eric Zhivalyuk says. “We need to focus on the areas that are hurting the most.”

Fears over virus transmission are likely to remain even after the pandemic ends, and people will likely want to continue disinfecting their homes and businesses, even if they feel safe enough to forgo a professional service. Part of expanding the business post-pandemic, then, means getting the disinfectant Germ Hero uses on the shelf in front of consumers.

“It’s safe to use on your skin. You can ingest it, and it’s a better, more effective, safer disinfecting agent than what’s [currently] on the shelves in front of us,” Zhivalyuk says.

Don’t believe him? Try a bite of his apple.

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