In this April 26 image, Seattle Seahawks NFL football player Doug Baldwin talks about the new VICIS Zero 1 helmet that NFL teams will be trying out at minicamps, at a fabrication facility in Seattle. (Randy Ronquillo/VICIS Inc. via AP)

In this April 26 image, Seattle Seahawks NFL football player Doug Baldwin talks about the new VICIS Zero 1 helmet that NFL teams will be trying out at minicamps, at a fabrication facility in Seattle. (Randy Ronquillo/VICIS Inc. via AP)

Snohomish County companies help make safer football helmet

MUKILTEO — Two Snohomish County companies are helping three college professors and a veteran of the medical technology industry revolutionize the football helmet.

With concern growing about the extent of concussions, Seattle-based startup VICIS set out in 2013 to create the safest helmet. The company’s Zero1 helmet already is showing results. It finished first among helmets tested in the lab by the National Football League and the players’ association. During NFL training sessions this spring, several players have been spotted wearing the helmet, including Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin.

It’s no surprise that Baldwin is wearing the helmet, though. He believes in the product so much that he personally invested in VICIS. He isn’t the only NFL standout impressed by the Zero1. Seahawks teammate Richard Sherman and NFL legend Jerry Rice are among the big names who have endorsed the helmet as a safety upgrade for players.

The company has never paid — and never will pay — a player to wear or endorse the helmet, said Dave Marver, VICIS’ chief executive.

Marver has spent more than 20 years in the medical technology industry, where he met VICIS co-founders Per Reinhall and Dr. Sam Browd. Reinhall heads the mechanical engineering department at the University of Washington. He also helped launch two successful startups before VICIS. Not to be outdone, Browd is a pediatric neurosurgeon at Seattle Children’s Hospital and teaches neurological surgery at the UW.

The company’s other co-founder, Jonathan Posner, also is a UW mechanical engineering professor.

“We came at this from engineering and scientific backgrounds,” Marver said.

The group used their decades of expertise to design a safer helmet.

Concussions are caused by rapid movement of the brain in the skull. Researchers still are working to understand what type of impact can produce concussions, Marver said.

The Zero1’s layers work together to absorb and dampen the force of a hit. Unlike traditional football helmets, which have a hard shell, the Zero1 helmet is designed to bend when it is hit. Below the shell, a honeycomb of columns bend and buckle to soften the blow.

The company spent about $20 million developing the Zero1. Earlier this year, it raised nearly $30 million to use for making, promoting and distributing a production model. The fundraising has come from angel investors and private individuals, including current and former NFL players and medical doctors, Marver said.

Along the way, the company has used feedback from the Seahawks organization, as well as college and pro players, to refine the design. Last year, the company provided helmets for a game between UW and the University of Oregon.

As a result of that feedback, RAM Technologies tweaked the padding inside the helmet to provide a more comfortable fit. The Mukilteo-based company makes high-tech foam parts for the aerospace, defense and medical industries, among others.

While “high-tech foam” might sound like an oxymoron to many people, a walk through RAM Technologies reveals the complexity and innovation required to press, push and punch any of the hundred foam materials available into the required shape.

The company works with customers to find the best solution to fit their needs. It has a big engineering team and is always looking for ways to make a good product even better, said Kerston Welch, the company’s business development director.

Thanks to that focus, RAM Technologies has picked up business from at least three customers that had been buying from suppliers in Asia, where labor costs are lower, Welch said.

A design firm in Portland connected the company with VICIS.

“They came to us with an idea,” Welch said.

Designers from the two companies collaborated to make parts that can be mass produced. Satisfying VICIS’ needs required RAM Technologies to create a new way of producing foam padding. The company used heat to shape memory foam, which springs back into place after being compressed. That process has not been done anywhere else, Welch said.

The result is padding that is comfortable, safe and resilient.

“It took us a good year of working together to develop the padding” for the helmet, he said.

Cobalt Enterprises in Lake Stevens created molds used to make the honeycomb of columns below the helmet’s shell. It typically does intricate work for aerospace companies.

VICIS has worked closely with companies across its supply chain to make the Zero1 helmet a reality. They have been a “really key part of our journey,” Marver said.

The company has focused on professional and college players, because they put their helmets through the most abuse. It plans to soon have versions available for players in high school and younger.

If things go well with the Zero1 football helmet, VICIS expects to expand into other sports, as well, he said.

“At this point, we just need to execute and grow effectively,” Marver said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dcatchpole.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Barre3 owner Gina Drake leads an exercise class in the Red Barn at 5th Ave S and Maple Street on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2020 in Edmonds, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Barre3 teaches a fitness trifecta for balance during COVID-19

The full-body workouts combine strength conditioning, cardio and mindfulness to help you feel balanced.

An access road leads into plot of land located in north Darrington that could potentially be used to build a 30-acre Wood Innovation Center, which will house CLT manufacturing and modular building companies on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 in Darrington, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$6 million grant is green light for Darrington timber center

The Darrington Wood Innovation Center is set to become a reality — bringing roughly 150 jobs with it.

Boeing 777 makes emergency landing in Moscow

The plane landed safely and no one was injured.

FILE- In this Oct. 19, 2015, file photo, an airplane flies over a sign at Boeing's newly expanded 737 delivery center at Boeing Field in Seattle. Federal regulators have imposed $5.4 million in civil penalties against Boeing on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, for violating terms of a $12 million settlement in 2015, and the aircraft maker has agreed to pay another $1.21 million to settle two current enforcement cases. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing will pay $6.6 million to settle FAA allegations

The company failed to put adequate priority on complying with regulations.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, file photo, a United Airlines Boeing 737 Max airplane takes off in the rain, at Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Wash. Federal auditors are issuing fresh criticism of the government agency that approved the Boeing 737 Max. The Transportation Department's inspector general said Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, that the Federal Aviation Administration must improve its process for certifying new planes.  (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Federal watchdog blasts FAA over certification of Boeing jet

It will take five years to finish making the Transportation Department’s 14 recommended changes.

Hamburger cheese with beef, salad, tomato and ham isolated on white background.
You voted: The best hamburger in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people still have their favorites.

Boeing’s decorated 787 Dreamliner on display at a celebration for the Boeing Employees Community Fund last year at the Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center in Mukilteo. (Janice Podsada / Herald file)
Boeing’s deepening 787 inspections risk longer delays

The company will use freed-up space in Everett to inspect and repair the plane’s tiny imperfections.

In this image taken from video, the engine of United Airlines Flight 328 is on fire after after experiencing "a right-engine failure" shortly after takeoff from Denver International Airport, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Denver, Colo. The Boeing 777 landed safely and none of the passengers or crew onboard were hurt. (Chad Schnell via AP)
Metal fatigue seen as trigger for Boeing 777 engine failure

A preliminary investigation suggested a crack that grew gradually over time prompted the failure.

Boeing 757 flying to Seattle makes emergency landing

The 16-year-old jetliner was powered by Pratt & Whitney engines.

This Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 photo provided by Hayden Smith shows United Airlines Flight 328 approaching Denver International Airport, after experiencing "a right-engine failure" shortly after takeoff from Denver. Federal regulators are investigating what caused a catastrophic engine failure on the plane that rained debris on Denver suburbs as the aircraft made an emergency landing. Authorities said nobody aboard or on the ground was hurt despite large pieces of the engine casing that narrowly missed homes below. (Hayden Smith via AP)
Boeing: 777s with engine that blew apart should be grounded

Video showed the engine fully engulfed in flames as the plane flew through the air.

A portion of the site of the proposed Lake Stevens Costco at the intersection of Highway 9 (right) and South Lake Stevens Road (below, out of view). (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Legal battle stalls Costco’s planned store in Lake Stevens

“We intend to keep them in court until they get tired of us and go away,” an opponent of the project said.

FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2020, file photo a Boeing 777X airplane takes off on its first flight with the Olympic Mountains in the background at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. Boeing is reporting another huge loss, this one because of a setback to its 777X widebody jetliner. Boeing said Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, it lost $8.4 billion in the fourth quarter on weaker demand for planes during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing says 2 directors are leaving as board faces scrutiny

Arthur Collins Jr. and Susan Schwab won’t stand for reelection at the shareholder meeting in April.