These Football Helmets Reduce Impact Up to 33 Percent
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Successful sports teams are only as good as their safety equipment. Erin Nemec Hanson, founder and CEO of Guardian Innovations, helped invent The Guardian Cap, a soft-shell helmet cover for football helmets. According to their website, It’s “padded, soft-shell technology to the outside of the decades-old hard-shell football helmet, and it reduces impact up to 33 percent.” The helmet covers also are made of a pliable material that is able to more effectively manage energy.
We caught up with Hanson to learn more about this product, her company, and what’s on the horizon for sports safety.
CA: How did you get started in the sports equipment industry?
ENH: In 2010, a company came to The Hanson Group for help developing a soft shell football helmet. This was before conversations about CTE and head injury in contact sports were common. The product was valid, but not well received at the time. My husband, Lee, and I felt a moral obligation to take the data we knew could help players and do something with it, so we launched Guardian Innovations.
In 2011, we patented the less expensive, one-size-fits-all softcover, The Guardian Cap, to retrofit any existing helmet and reduce impact. Our kids were launched by then, so I set up the Guardian Innovations team and ran Guardian full time. Guardian Caps are now used by colleges across the USA by teams like Clemson, UVA, Texas, Washington, Penn State, Vanderbilt, and more.
CA: What other sports and activities are you looking to improve?
ENH: Because we sat on so many panels regarding sports safety, we were alerted to a problem with rubber lacrosse balls going out of spec as they made their way from manufactures in Asia to stores in the US. Our son was a lacrosse goalie and we could attest that some of the balls coming at him at 90mph were as hard as a cue ball. So we went back to the labs and created a urethane ball that never greases up and always stays within the safety spec.
Our PEARL lacrosse balls are manufactured here in Atlanta, GA. We also have a sustainable bio-based TPE infill, manufactured in the US called Guardian bio-based TPE Infill, that maintains a 28-degree cooler surface temperature on fields. Lastly, we partnered with a company called 2nd Skull to distribute an impact reducing cap and headband for soccer, hockey, lacrosse, and baseball, and other sports.
CA: What are the biggest obstacles in your industry?
ENH: The biggest challenge we face is pushback from helmet companies who are competing for budget dollars. There is also pushback about changing the look of a sport — even in practice. We are continuously testing our products as science evolves to reveal their effectiveness.
CA: What are the biggest highlights?
ENH: The biggest reward comes when a player or a coach who has used your product tells you what a positive difference it made.
It was exciting to win the NFL's 1st HeadHealthTECH Challenge, which gave us validation to expand the use of Guardian Caps. It's also exciting every time a team purchases, especially Youth teams, because I know that player will experience less impact to his head. If his teammates are also wearing Guardian Caps, that player will have less impact to his hands, ribs, thighs, etc.
CA: What advice can you offer those looking to improve product designs in their own industry?
ENH: Bringing a product to market that disrupts the status quo is not easy and it takes time for a product to be accepted, regardless of what data reveals. A sales team can introduce a product, but people want to hear from their peers that it works. Forming relationships with others, even competitors, is essential to learning and navigating your industry. Always help when you can, even if there's no apparent benefit to yourself. It always comes back around. Our world is way more connected than you can imagine