Vicis’ high-tech helmet is making its way into the NFL and more investors are taking notice.
The Seattle startup just announced an additional $10 million in new funding today as it prepares to equip professional and collegiate football players with its innovative helmet.
Harry Fath, a real estate developer and minority owner of the Cincinnati Reds, led the latest round, which pushes total funding for the 4-year-old company to nearly $40 million. An additional 25 physicians also participated in the round via the angelMD platform.
Vicis’ $1,500 ZERO1 helmet features a unique outer shell material designed to mitigate the forces thought to cause concussions. The company 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.
“It was a very important result for us and hugely validating,” Vicis CEO Dave Marver told GeekWire. “It’s the most rigorous test out there, and the only one that incorporates both linear and rotational measures. To come out on top of that in a field of 33 helmets validates everything we’ve been working toward for the last three-and-a-half years.”
Vicis has shipped its helmet to nearly every NFL team, and 12 have officially placed orders for more.
“We expect more to follow,” Marver noted.
NFL players are testing the feel of Vicis helmets during non-contact practice this spring and Marver said he’s encouraged by the positive feedback thus far. Marver said the “real test” will come later this summer when tackling is allowed and “that’s when they will really be able to appreciate the difference between the ZERO1 and traditional helmets,” he noted.
— Zach Ertz (@ZERTZ_86) May 18, 2017
This past fall, the University of Washington and University of Oregon football teams wore the ZERO1 helmets, but Vicis pulled the helmets after player complaints about forehead pressure and a “higher than expected frequency of upper chinstrap disengagement.” Vicis has since addressed those issues and the helmet will be used on the field next season.
“In many ways, it’s a much different and much better helmet than it was last year,” Marver said.
Vicis has been on a press tour for the past few months. Marver recently appeared on ESPN’s Outside The Lines; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, part of Vicis’ player coalition and also an investor, was in New York City recently talking about the helmet to media.
Some of those reports note how Vicis could “save football” given all the concussion-related issues that have plagued the NFL over the past several years. Marver said it’s not just Vicis that will help reduce head impact injuries on the field.
“It requires a multi-faceted approach,” he explained. “Improved equipment is certainly a big component, but it also includes better tackling techniques, improved coaching, and increased vigilance. We’re just trying to do our part the best we can.”
The ultimate goal for Vicis is to provide high-tech helmets to youth athletes playing not just football, but others sports, too.
Vicis spun out of the University of Washington in 2014. Other executives include CTO Per Reinhall, chairman of the UW Mechanical Engineering Department, and Chief Medical Officer Samuel Browd, medical director of Seattle Children’s Hospital Sports Concussion Program. It employs 50 people and just opened a new production facility in Seattle near its headquarters.
Investors in the startup range from 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; and Bruce Montgomery, a veteran of the Seattle biotech scene. Other backers include other current and former NFL players; surgeons; W Fund; Alliance of Angels; and Trilogy Equity Partners.