From adversity sometimes comes opportunity. Proving the old adage true is Charles Robinson, a 19-year old entrepreneur who’s somehow managed to find the silver lining in the COVID pandemic. Like most universities, University College London (UCL) went into lockdown in spring 2020. First-year student Robinson found himself at a crossroads. The path he decided to take has turned him into one of the hottest new talents around. Find out more about Robinson and his fledgling startup, Gelcard, with these ten quick fire facts.
1. He studied at Christ’s Hospital
Christ’s Hospital (or CH, as it’s often referred to) is an English coeducational school in West Sussex. Founded in 1552, Christ’s Hospital is best known for its mission of providing children from humble backgrounds the opportunity of a first-rate education. Until recently, it was a boarding school. However, over the past decade, it’s started to accept day students. Robinson was among the intake of the school’s first-ever day pupils. After graduating from CH, he was awarded a place at UCL studying philosophy.
2. He founded Gelcard from his dorm room
In the US, there’s a tradition of students founding start-ups from their dorm rooms. In the UK…. not so much. Robinson has proved the exception. When University College London went into lockdown in the spring of 2020, Robinson suddenly found himself with a lot of free time on his hands. “I was trying to have a period of self-reflection,” he told Business Insider. “I realized this was the last point I would be free of responsibility.” Around the world, the COVID crisis was taking a stranglehold. People were being urged to maintain hygiene standards like never before and sales of hand-sanitizer were sky-rocketing. It was then that Robinson hit on a brainwave. Could he capitalize on the new demand for sanitizing products? As it turned out, the answer was a decided yes.
3. His inspiration for Gelcard came from a trip to Italy
On a trip to Italy a short time before COVID took travel off the table, Robinson had stumbled across a portable cleaning fluid for contact lenses. It was this cleaner that proved the inspiration for Gelcard. After teaming up with his friend and fellow UCL student, Paul Schmitz-Gielsdorf, Robinson set about tracing the producer of the product. After finding them in Milan, he set up a contract to begin the production of his new creation, Gelcard.
4. Gelcard was an instant success
Gelcard is a paper-thin, snap packet of hand-sanitizer. Had it launched in 2019, it would probably have gone unnoticed. Fortunately, Robinson had the good luck to release it in 2020, at a time when hand-sanitizer had never been more in demand. It was an instant smash. On the very first day of its launch, 20,000 gelcards were ordered. The speed at which it took off came as something of a surprise to Robinson, who’s since confessed that he had no real idea of the business side of his new start-up. “We had no idea what we were doing,” he says via jhaleemtv.com. “We were writing letters to CEOs by hand.” The tactic clearly worked. Within just a few short months of its inception, Gelcard had signed contracts with two of the biggest restaurants in London. It had also entered into a further agreement to supply the Europe-wide hotel chain, Park Plaza.
5. He’s revolutionized hand-sanitizer
Robinson might be surprised at how quickly Gelcard has taken off, yet no one else is. Gelcard has, simply put, revolutionized the world of hand-sanitizer. Offered in a convenient, easy to carry form, gelcards make light work of the job of keeping your hands clean on the go. Available in packs that are roughly 1/3 the size of a debit card, gelcards make use of ‘snap’ technology to guarantee easy, quick application. Whether he realized he’d be re-inventing hand-sanitizer with the launch of Gelcard or not, that’s exactly what Robinson has done.
6. He’s proven a hit with restaurants
If there’s one sector in particular that Gelcard can thank for its success, it’s the restaurant business. Shortly after launch, Robinson teamed up with The Wolseley, one of the biggest names on the London restaurant scene. More restaurants soon followed, both in the UK and Europe. Throughout the world’s capitals, no place setting is now complete without a gelcard. And little wonder. With cleanliness never closer to godliness than it now is, the quick and easy sanitation offered by gelcards is a dealbreaker.
7. He’s surprised by his success
According to Robinson, Gelcard is currently turning over around £120,000 ($163,000). The speed at which success has happened has taken the company’s founder by surprise, especially considering he never once dreamt he’d one day be an entrepreneur. “It’s bizarre,” Robinson says. “I was going to be an academic.”
8. He attributes his confidence to his school
Launching a start-up at just 19 years old takes a lot of guts. Robinson believes he got the courage and confidence he needed to launch Gelcard from his old school, Christ’s Hospital. “Christ’s Hospital’s devotion to rational argument, where each person is treated as equal, helped foster my attitude on the importance of ideas,” he explained via the school’s website.
9. He owes a world of gratitude to Old Blue
Old Blue is a network of individuals across the world, all of whom have received the benefit of a Christ’s Hospital education. Robinson has said that he found the network invaluable during Gelcard’s early days, and has benefited hugely from the advice and support offered by the network’s members. “I spoke to over fifty Old Blues in the first month,” he’s said. “I receive support from a marketing manager, advice from a trademark attorney, growth strategy from a CEO, and they are all Old Blues.”
10. He’s been mentored by the best
He may have come up with a world-class idea, yet lest we forget, Robinson is still just 19 years old and a person with no prior business experience. Fortunately, he’s received no shortage of support in launching Gelcard, and credits the mentoring he’s received from an unnamed ‘top-level executive” with much of his success. “I was fortunate to receive the mentorship of a top-level executive from an internationally recognized business,” he’s said. “I reached out to him a year or so ago, which has provided a world of opportunities.”