Another football season is approaching this fall, and Vicis is gearing up to have its high-tech football helmet worn by players during games on the field for the first time.
The Seattle startup today confirmed with GeekWire that it just closed another $4 million in funding that’s part of a larger Series A round which includes investment from more than 60 individuals, including angels, neurosurgeons, spine surgeons, and business leaders.
Vicis most recently closed an $8 million seed round in January. Previous investors include people like Roger Staubach, the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback who led his team to two Super Bowl wins; to folks like Robert Nelsen, a biotech industry veteran and co-founder of Arch Venture Partners.
Total funding for the 2-year-old company is now close to $14 million.
Vicis will use the fresh cash to ramp up production and commercialization for its ZERO1 football helmet that will be worn by a handful of college and professional athletes this fall. The company said around 25 NFL and 30 NCAA teams “have expressed interest in evaluating the ZERO1 in advance of their 2016 seasons.”
The 30-person startup, which spun out of the University of Washington last year, says its ZERO1 helmet provides more protection against skull fracture, traumatic brain injury, and concussion than the traditional helmet used by athletes today. The helmet differentiates from other available options because of a unique outer shell material that is designed to mitigate the forces thought to cause concussions on the football field and in other contact sports.
“We don’t have that hard polycarbonate shell,” Vicis CEO Dave Marver said on stage at the GeekWire Summit in October while demoing the product. “We have a multi-layered system with a novel outer shell material and a novel engineered structure.”
Vicis plans to sell each helmet for $1,500, which is considerably higher than what companies like Riddell and Schutt offer today. But Marver told GeekWire in January that helmet pricing isn’t necessarily rational — “we’ve been paying more to protect shoulders than brains,” he noted, while adding that the company put “millions of dollars” into research and development.
He also said Vicis will “work as hard as we can” to bring the price down for high school and youth participants.
Vicis, which also has $750,000 in grant funding from The Head Health Initiative, has an impressive leadership team. Marver has over two decades of business experience in the medical device space; Chief Medical Officer Samuel Browd is a director for the Seattle Children’s Hospital Sports Concussion Program; and Chief Technology Officer Per Reinhall is the chairman of the UW Mechanical Engineering Department.
In addition, the company has a “coalition” made up of current and former NFL players like Mark May, Doug Baldwin, and Tony Dorsett — who said last year that he is fighting chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — that act as an advisory council.
The risk of concussions and other head-related trauma continues to dominate the conversation in the football world and elsewhere, including Hollywood, with the recent movie Concussion starring Will Smith. The NFL for the first time last month acknowledged that there is a link between football-related head injuries and CTE. There’s also a new study set to be presented at next week’s American Academy of Neurology meeting that shows more than 40 percent of retired NFL players having “signs of traumatic brain injury.”
About a year ago, a federal judge approved a potential $1 billion lawsuit that would resolve NFL concussion lawsuits brought about by former players. Meanwhile, more and more players are retiring early because of the risk for concussions.