Vicis, With New Funding, Targets Tech for Safer Football Helmets

A new generation of football helmet technology, designed with the specific aim of limiting life-threatening brain trauma, appears to be seeping into mainstream use.

One company, Seattle-based Vicis, appears to have added tens of millions of dollars to help propel it in this field. Vicis reported a $53.2 million equity funding round, some of which includes “principal and accrued interest under convertible notes that were converted to equity,” according to a document filed with securities regulators. That’s on top of about $21.5 million in debt financing and about $13 million in other equity funding the company has previously received, according to securities filings. The company hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Vicis used computer modeling to engineer a helmet filled with flexible rods that deform and buckle when the helmet is impacted, causing more uniform pressure throughout the head, the company says in a promotional video. The company is careful to refrain from making any claims about reducing or preventing concussions, one of the primary problems the NFL and football as a whole are currently dealing with. But the company does tout its top safety rating in a couple of lab studies.

“We’re not attacking this like we’re a sporting goods company, we’re attacking this like we’re a technology company, bringing in the latest thinking from engineering, medicine, and sports,” CEO Dave Marver said a company video. Marver co-founded the company in 2013.

Another related startup is Detroit-based Xenith, which develops a helmet that has a series of shock absorbers to act like an airbag for a player’s head. Xenith was founded in Lowell, MA, by a former Harvard quarterback-turned-doctor, but was recruited to relocate to Detroit in 2014 by Dan Gilbert, one of Xenith’s investors, as Xconomy previously reported.

The two young businesses are trying to take over a market that has been dominated by a couple of stalwarts, including Ridell and Schutt—both decades-old businesses. The price of the helmets runs a wide range: Vicis charges $950 for its helmet, while Xenith lists the price of its varsity helmets at $289 and $349. Riddell helmets, meanwhile, run from $280 to $410, and Schutt charges an even wider range, from $240 to $975.

Vicis announced today that Baylor University is outfitting most of its football team in the company’s helmets, and the company already has some current and former NFL players as spokespeople. Xenith has a presence on some college teams too, and its helmet is worn by about 60 NFL players, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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