Combatting concussion: New football helmet innovation from University of Washington startup wins Head Health Challenge II

Under Armour, GE and NFL’s Head Health Challenge II awards $500,000 to UW and startup VICIS, Inc.

Story by Clare LaFond
Photos by Conrado Tapado, except as noted


See additional coverage in KOMO, KING, PSBJ, GeekWire, and USA Today.

Jonathan Posner tests helmet technology. Photo by Conrado Tapado

Jonathan Posner tests helmet technology

University of Washington and its commercial partner, 2014 UW startup VICIS, Inc., developer of a new football helmet designed to mitigate the forces likely to cause concussion, have been named one of the winners of the National Football League, GE and Under Armour funded Head Health Challenge II. UW researchers founded VICIS, Inc. and developed the innovative new helmet.

A collaboration between the NFL, General Electric Co. and Under Armour sports apparel company, the Head Health Challenge is a search for solutions that help prevent, measure and detect brain injury. First launched in 2013, this year’s second global challenge will award up to $8.5 million for new innovations and materials that can protect the brain from traumatic injury. The 2014 Head Health Challenge II received more than 500 proposals from 19 countries. (Visit www.headhealthchallenge.com to learn more.)

Dave Marver, CEO of VICIS. Photo by Conrado Tapado

Dave Marver, CEO of VICIS

“Our win validates this helmet’s promise as a significant breakthrough in the protection of young athletes against brain injury,” said Dave Marver, VICIS CEO and an experienced medical technology executive.

The technology UW and VICIS are developing has shown unprecedented reduction in linear and rotational acceleration, the forces likely to cause concussion. The company’s innovation is a result of collaboration between renowned researchers in mechanical engineering and neurosurgery at UW, including Per Reinhall, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Jonathan Posner, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Samuel Browd, associate professor of neurological surgery, pediatric neurosurgeon and medical director of the Sports Concussion Program at Seattle Children’s, a joint program between Seattle Children’s and UW Medicine at Harborview Medical Center. Together with business leaders and public health experts, Reinhall and Browd say the UW/VICIS team is committed to using science to protect young athletes.

Per Reinhall, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering

Per Reinhall, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering

“UW Mechanical Engineering is full of bright and talented people who are eager to solve the problem of sports-related concussion,” Reinhall said. “Our selection as a grant recipient demonstrates the potential of our helmet.”

Reinhall and Posner will lead overall coordination of the project, including making sure all helmet safety standards and considerations are met that could influence design and manufacturing. His mechanical engineering research team will design, model, develop a prototype and run impact testing on the new helmet.

Browd, who initially formed the VICIS team and co-invented the technology with Reinhall, said innovation in football helmet technology is long overdue since helmets have not changed significantly in the last 50 years.

“UW Neurological Surgery and our partners throughout UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s are at the forefront of concussion research, diagnosis, prevention, treatment and advocacy,” Browd said. “We are confident this new helmet will help diminish the risk of concussion among young athletes.”

Samuel Browd, associate professor of neurological surgery. Photo by Erik Stuhaug, Seattle Children's Hospital.

Samuel Browd, assoc. prof. of neurological surgery.
Photo by Erik Stuhaug, Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The UW team that is working on the helmet project has received funding from the UW Center for Commercialization (C4C) and the Coulter Foundation. The company has also received investments from Seattle-based Alliance of Angels and the W-Fund, a venture capital fund that provides early-stage investment to accelerate the success of Washington’s most promising technology-based startup companies originating from research institutions and students across the state. VICIS is one of 16 startups currently housed in the UW Center for Commercialization’s business incubator, known as the New Ventures Facility, which was named emerging incubator of the year in a ranking of top university business incubators by the 2014 University Business Incubators Global Index.