Update, Monday, Dec. 23, 3:10 p.m.: This story has been updated with additional comments from Vicis Board Chair Bruce Montgomery.
The action is Vicis’ attempt to find a buyer and satisfy its debts. When a company is placed in receivership, a trustee is legally appointed to oversee its assets and business operations.
“This is a difficult but necessary step that gives us the best opportunity to secure a buyer for the company with the goal of ensuring maximum return to shareholders,” Vicis Board Chairman Bruce Montgomery said in a statement. “We know this is heartbreaking news for Vicis customers, employees and investors who placed their trust in our products and believed in our mission. Our employees in particular dedicated their time and talents to building a great company that did great things, and we are thinking about them and their families during this difficult time.”
Montgomery is CEO at Avalyn Pharma. Eric Orse, president of the Seattle-based Orse & Co. financial services firm, was named as the receiver.
The company was founded in 2013 and spun out of the University of Washington with a mission to deliver better protective gear for athletes. Its inaugural product, the ZERO1, was designed to better reduce impact forces before they reach the head and considered one of the most significant advancements in football technology in decades.
But after raising more than $85 million from 400-plus investors, including current and former National Football League stars, Vicis’ success story started to crumble.
Despite making inroads with the NFL as well as college and youth programs, Vicis’ off-the-field problems mounted — cash was getting low and investors weren’t writing more checks. CEO Dave Marver resigned and stepped down from the board in November.
“We invested a lot of capital because we were trying to achieve something important and meaningful, and we wanted to be first-mover with new and better helmets in multiple categories,” Marver told GeekWire last week.
Montgomery, however, said at one point during an employee webinar, “One of our mistakes was probably chasing market share and not profitability.”
Vicis held several board meetings last week to determine its fate, and was reportedly weighing dueling offers from investors that would keep the company alive.
GeekWire previously learned that one potential buyer included a small set of existing shareholders from the Seattle region. An alternative group with connections to Marver was also in the mix, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Neither option appeared to pan out.
“We evaluated two financing options, both fell through after our board had agreed to terms,” Montgomery told GeekWire. “We did not have the cash to sustain operations while looking for a buyer, a project that can take months.”
He added that the company can still be acquired out of receivership, and called it a “better opportunity” for whomever does the acquiring, because there will be no debt.
The company’s primary assets, according to Montgomery, include all of Vicis’ current products, a new football helmet design, the youth football helmet, a soft helmet for 7 on 7 football and rugby, a hockey helmet, and a potential DoD contract for Army helmet liners.
“We hope that the technology we developed carries forward to protect athletes in multiple sports,” Montgomery said.
Linden Rhoads, general manager of The W Fund, an early Vicis investor, lauded two of the company’s co-founders — Sam Browd and Per Reinhall — in a statement shared with GeekWire.
“They’ve now spent years working to understand player needs and contributing their huge talent to make the Vicis helmet the success it became — rated No. 1 by the NFL and beloved by players — while fulfilling the responsibilities of incredibly demanding day jobs,” she said. “It was a phenomenally successful collaboration and a ton of hard work. They, like the investors in Vicis, deserve a better outcome. The next generation Zero2 would be a great product for players — so I hope one way or another it finds its way out of receivership and into production.”
On Monday, a message on the Vicis website home page thanked the teams and players that believed in the company and its product.
“Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to attract the capital needed to sustain our operations,” the message read. “Today we are taking the responsible step to pursue a sale of the company.”