NFL awards a Montreal start-up $550,000 to work on its design for a safer football helmet
MONTREAL -- Despite having no expertise in football helmets only two years ago, a Montreal start-up, KOLLIDE, has just scored big, winning a $550,000 grant from the National Football League (NFL) to advance its design of a new helmet they hope will ultimately help reduce the risk of concussions during games.
“Yes, it’s super exciting. We're proud of this collaborative entrepreneurship spirit that we have in Quebec,” said KOLLIDE research coordinator Franck Le Navéaux, who said the award is even more gratifying because they were up against other companies that had manufacturing experience.
Add to that, the challenge of working on their designs and contributions independently and meeting only virtually for 10 months straight during a pandemic.
As well as having the tenacity to form a 12-member start-up company from four smaller start-ups -- coming together at the last minute just to form KOLLIDE -- and there is much for them to savour about this first success.
All the submissions to the NHL were judged by a panel that included former NFL players and experts in the engineering, biomechanics, neurology, and sports business.
Along with KOLLIDE which began its project in 2019, two American businesses -- one based in Denver, Colorado, the other in Detroit, Michigan -- were also selected to receive funding after competing in the $3 million NFL Helmet Challenge.
“They are our competitors but we are all sharing the same goal and it's great to see that this challenge, broad innovation will be translated on the field,” Le Naveaux said.
The competing novel helmets were judged on their ability to reduce the severity of impacts, among other criteria.
The Canadian Football league (CFL) told CTV News in a statement it was aware of the initiative and supports the development of new helmets and equipment.
“If approved by the various regulatory bodies for use in football, the league would look into making them available to our players,” wrote Lucas Barrett, director of communications and public affairs for the CFL.
The KOLLIDE prototype features a helmet liner that is made of 3D printed pads that look like foam, but have an “architecture,” a particular structure, explained Le Naveaux, who has a background in the medical device industry.
The liner would be custom fitted to a player’s head with the 3D printed pads woven together into “a net,” to theoretically allow the wearer to sustain “18 different impacts in different directions,” he said.
The idea is that the flexible liner would absorb the energy of the impact, instead of the football player’s skull, “limiting both the linear and rotational accelerations transmitted to the head,” according to a statement from the start-up.
The KOLLIDE team member said since their design isn’t officially approved for use they can’t yet vouch for its effectiveness when it comes to reducing the number of head injuries sustained by players during pro football games.
However, he said their prototype “outperformed the current helmets on the market,” based on laboratory testing the NHL and its partners carry out annually to assess and rank helmets on the market.
That performance success was also enjoyed by other competitors.
“NFL Helmet Challenge submissions achieved up to a 13 per cent improvement above the top-performing helmet currently worn in the NFL,” the league said in a statement issued on Monday.
It appears that may bode well for the future of concussion prevention improvements in the NFL as the league also said this improvement rate is “more than four times what is typically seen annually in new helmet designs.”
With their funding coffers replenished, the KOLLIDE team wants to push its proof of concept even further to put their Montreal start-up on the map, but also to try and help other types of athletes.
“I'm a former boxer, so I can speak about the competition issues,” said Le Naveaux.
“Really what we have demonstrated with our technology in helmets,” he said, is that they can also apply their ideas to other sports that require an advanced level of protection against traumatic brain injury.