Vicis is adding another big name to its investor list as the startup gears up to make its high-tech football helmet available to high school athletes.
The Seattle-based company today announced that NFL star quarterback Russell Wilson participated in a $7 million round led by The Peregrine Group. Total funding in Vicis is now close to $50 million.
Founded in 2014 and spun out of the University of Washington, Vicis has developed a $1,500 football helmet designed to mitigate the forces thought to cause concussions. This season, players from more than 15 NFL teams and 20 NCAA programs are wearing the helmet, including Wilson, the 28-year-old phenom who led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title in 2013. UCLA star quarterback Josh Rosen was also spotted wearing the helmet this past Saturday.
“My experience wearing the ZERO1 this season has been exceptional,” Wilson said in a statement. “The custom fit and wide field of vision have allowed me to perform at my best. I invested in VICIS because I believe in our mission and I want to help all the kids playing sports have access to the best available technology.”
Wilson joins a long list of current and former NFL players like Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (both wear the helmet), Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, and others who are supporting the company either through investment or as part of its coalition.
It’s also another sign of Wilson’s active off-the-field ventures; he recently raised $9 million for his new Seattle-based startup TraceMe, which aims to connect “superfans” with athletes, artists, actors, and other influential celebrities. Wilson is also helping support a new $1 billion fundraising campaign for Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Institution.
Vicis, meanwhile, also today announced the general availability of its ZERO1 helmet to any football players at the high school level and above. Athletes can pre-order the helmet, with an expected delivery by July 31 of next year for orders placed by March 31 — in time for the 2018 football season.
While the company is starting with NFL and college athletes, it’s always been Vicis’ mission to get its helmet into the high school ranks and other youth leagues. Vicis is offering financing options for the helmet and created a reference program that enables discounts. It also established a foundation led by Lisa Ertz, mother of NFL tight end Zach Ertz.
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“There are a lot of parents sitting around the dinner table throughout America, concerned about their kids playing football and other contact sports like girls soccer, for example,” Vicis CEO Dave Marver told GeekWire during a tour of the company’s production facility in Seattle. “We feel like we have a group of engineers that has developed a lot of expertise and is deeply committed to helping people. We want to take what we’ve learned in developing this football helmet and extend that into other sports.”
Unlike traditional helmets, the outer shell on the ZERO1 is deformable and yields much like a car bumper upon impact. There is also a layer of flexible columns in the helmet that can absorb impact before it reaches a head.
Vicis recently garnered national attention after its helmet finished first in the NFL’s 2017 Helmet Laboratory Testing Performance Results, which assessed 33 helmets that could be worn in the upcoming 2017 season and determined which was best at reducing head impact severity experienced by players during games.
Marver is a medical device and industry veteran; his leadership team includes CTO Per Reinhall, head of the UW’s mechanical engineering department; and Chief Medical Officer Samuel Browd, medical director of Seattle Children’s Hospital Sports Concussion Program.
Other investors in Vicis include prominent spine and neurological surgeons; Cincinnati Reds minority owner Harry Fath; angelMD, W Fund; Alliance of Angels; and Trilogy Equity Partners.
Doctors are finding evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and other health issues in the brains of an increasing number of former NFL players as the league grapples with a concussion crisis. The safety of athletes across various impact sports is becoming a greater concern in youth leagues as well.
Vicis is one of many companies and organizations creating products, services, and more to help improve player safety. Other innovations range from impact data platforms like the one from fellow Seattle startup Athlete Intelligence; new data-driven tackling methods designed by groups like Atavus, another Seattle-based company; and the “Mobile Virtual Player” used by half of NFL teams to reduce impact at practice.