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High-tech football helmet maker Vicis today announced a soft helmet for use during practices, 7-on-7 and flag football. The Ultim cap is designed to protect players from head injuries when full pads and hard helmets aren’t being used.

Vicis CEO and co-founder Dave Marver said the new headgear is a response to research showing that both flag and tackle football have similar injury rates. “We’re committed to football as a sport. We want the kids who play it to have the best access whatever form,” he told GeekWire.

Even though it just hit the market, the Ultim cap already earned the No. 1 spot in a ranking of soft helmets for flag football by the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab.

The company’s hard helmet, called the Zero 1, is built to mitigate the impacts believed to cause concussions. Despite the different form factor, the soft helmet uses the same physics behind the Zero 1, which has a rigid body that flexes on impact. The Ultim cap’s padding is engineered around a wave pattern of walls that buckle and bounce back.

The new $119 Ultim cap is available for order today and will ship in mid-July. The high cost of the company’s innovative helmets — $950 for Zero 1 adult helmet and $495 for the youth version— has prompted youth programs and individual athletes to turn to crowdfunding platforms. Vicis offers team-based rates and provides discounts through crowdfunding platform FundMyTeam.

Vicis CEO Dave Marver. (Vicis Photo)

On the innovation front, Vicis has delivered. The company’s youth helmet ranked first in Virginia Tech’s inaugural youth football helmet safety ratings by a significant margin. The Zero 1 was one of Time Magazine’s 25 Best Inventions of 2017 and placed first again in the NFL’s recent helmet safety test.

The upshot of that innovation is that more than three-quarters of all professional teams now have a starter who wears a Vicis helmet. At the college level, 180 programs have deals with Vicis, up from 125 last year.

Participation in football has declined in recent years, and head injuries are a contributing factor. Nearly half of parents say they would sway their kids away from playing football due to concerns over concussions, according to a poll last year from NBC and The Wall Street Journal. The NFL and the NCAA recently teamed up to make the sport of football safer.

A small survey from researchers at the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center suggested that high school football teams who used Vicis’ Zero 1 helmet reported fewer concussions.

While the non-tackle segments of the sport are relatively small, Marver said they are “growing really fast” at a clip of 25 percent or more per year.

Vicis has raised more than $85 million to date from investors that include current and former NFL players Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Alex Smith, Roger Staubach, and Jerry Rice. “We invested in VICIS because its commitment to player safety — specifically at the youth level — is one we wanted to support,” Rodgers said in a statement last November.

Vicis is also looking to create helmets for other sports, which Marver said could happen in the next year. The company, which spun out of the University of Washington in 2014, designs and builds its products in the Seattle area and has 115 employees.

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