SPORT: Co. Advances Materials, Performance
By Mariel Concepcion
San Diego Business Journal
The helmets come assembled and “all that needs to be done is have the color or appearance kit that the customer chooses tossed into the box at a fulfillment house,” according to the company. Photo courtesy of Safer Sports LLC.
Since launching in July 2017, Safer Sports LLC, doing business as LIGHT Helmets, has raised roughly $3 million through two family and friends funding rounds. These included the likes of former Major League Baseball player Jim Edmonds; racecar driver Tony Gaples; and Joe Hegener, the former CEO of TD Securities.
Now, the company, which bought the assets of another entity — SG Helmets — in 2018 that uses advanced technology from the military, defense and auto racing industries to create protective helmets for athletes, is in the middle of a Series A round, according to its CEO and founder Nicholas Esayian. The target is to raise between $3 million and $6 million in order to continue to scale the company, he said, which is forecasted to reach a revenue of $12.5 million in 2020.
“Remarkably we managed to design, test, manufacture and sell helmets within nine months of buying the assets of SG,” he said. “We missed most of the sales season for football, which is pretty much designated to about four months of the year. We sold over 1,000 helmets to individuals, high schools and major colleges from Vista High School, Cathedral Catholic High School, San Diego State University, U.S. Navy and more. Of course, we are new, so, everyone dips their toes in the water.”
In December, Seattle-based Vicis, a helmet company founded in 2014, laid off a majority of its staff and found itself on the verge of a total shutdown. This doesn’t worry Esayian, a former racecar driver himself, who said it is exactly what LIGHT is doing differently from other companies in the marketplace that is making it advance so quickly.
What makes LIGHT unique, according to Esayian, is, first, that it designs and assembles everything in-house while outsourcing all of the components, he said. This allows the company to scale faster, according to Esayian, while providing the flexibility to pivot to new technologies and manufacturing methods as well as leverage expertise from defense, aviation and automotive industries to rapidly design, test and deploy new products.
The same applies for its engineering approach, he said.
“We have a dedicated designer and engineer that manages outsourced firms that specialize in various materials and manufacturing methods,” Esayian said. “The composites and foam technologies are advancing so rapidly, we want to maintain the ability to evaluate, integrate and manufacture components that give our buyers that cutting-edge versus what we are tooled up for or (are) familiar with internally.”
A Perfect Score
Its methods and procedures are so advanced that Esayian said, despite LIGHT being a new company, Virginia Tech Helmet Lab, a helmet testing program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, gave it’s three current football helmets a rating of five stars. The company’s soft headgear for flag football and soccer received a perfect score, he said, which had never been achieved before in that segment.
Doug Brady, founder and owner of Brady Performance, a San Diego-based football player development company, said, the market could be prime for disruption because safety is the top priority.
“There is empirical research and a five-star rating from a Power Five School, VA Tech that is,” he said. “This industry is prime for disruption ever since concussions have been in the public light.”
Brady does caution that, despite the strong rating, LIGHT might still face some naysayers.
“Familiarity is always the toughest obstacle to face when you want players to choose a new product over an established one,” he said.
But, Esayian is confident. He said LIGHT’s ability to shift gears and stay on the pulse of technological advances has led the company to create just that: a lightweight protective head gear made with the latest technologies. To achieve this, LIGHT uses advanced materials that, according to the company, absorb impact better than the industry standard material of plastic shells, traditional foam cube liners and steel facemasks, he said. The objective is to not only protect the athlete but help him/her perform better on the field. Some other products that have become bigger and heavier perform better on various tests but can be detrimental to the athlete’s performance on the field, said Esayian.
“There is not a single sport where more weight added for the brain stem, spine, shoulders and back is helpful,” he said. “We could make 20 lbs. helmets that would perform extremely well on the various tests, but, in the real world, those same helmets would create an entire array of different injuries.”
LIGHT helmets are “the only helmet(s) that (are) resizable, which helps leagues, schools, teams and parents save money,” Esayian said. “Our helmets are comprised of a fraction of the number of components of other helmets, which makes life easier for the equipment managers. We are also priced competitively,” he said.
Materials used for LIGHT helmets come from various locations, said Esayian. The current shells are made by local aerospace and defense contractors, he said, and the facemasks are manufactured in China. The latter are made out of chromoly, a chrome alloy steel with a medium carbon content and .8% – 1.1% molybdenum, the latter a silvery-white metal that is ductile and highly resistant to corrosion for strength, similar to what is found in racecar roll cages, Esayian said.
LIGHT also utilizes two types of foam for its liners, said Esayian, one that comes from a company that predominately does automotive products and the other is a foam with a unique property called auxetic form, he said, which Florida State University patented, the National Football League (NFL) funded and a Florida-based company called Auxadyne manufactures. LIGHT’s soft helmets are made in the Pacific Rim, Esayian said, adding that everything is assembled, packaged and shipped from the Carlsbad headquarters.
In terms of production, Esayian said LIGHT manufactures about 1 million units a year of its hard-shell football helmets, although, in its current facility, it can assemble up to roughly 30,000 hard-shell helmets per year and produce over 1 million of the soccer helmets per year through its vendor partners.
“The beauty of those products is that they come assembled and all that needs to be done is have the color or appearance kit that the customer chooses tossed into the box at a fulfillment house,” said Esayian. “The beauty of this methodology is that we are offering the best helmet in the world in that space, yet we can scale in a matter of weeks to almost any volume.”
The hardshell football helmets have an MSRP from $325-$595, said Esayian, while the soft headgear, made for flag football, soccer, rugby, field hockey, etc., sells for $99.95. The company currently has 23 independent sales representatives that service larger entities, such as colleges, and roughly 80 dealers around the country, said Esayian. For the flag football and soccer headgear, he said the company is in discussion with larger dealers, like BSN Sports, with 1,000 sales in-house reps that LIGHT can leverage.
“We get inquiries from college players, parents of high school and pop warner players that want a lighter helmet made from more modern materials,” he said. “Individual coaches and equipment managers also contact us directly. We make helmets and headgear for everyone from a 5-year-old that plays flag football or soccer to the athlete you see playing on Saturday on TV.”
There is also a dealer locator on the company website to help customers find the closest dealer geographically, Esayian added. LIGHT has distributors in the EU, Japan and Mexico and will soon have some in Canada, he said. The company also has an in-house team dedicated to supporting the reps, big league sales and attending the trade shows, he said.
To market LIGHT Helmets, Esayian said he relies mostly on its sales representatives, trade show attendance and social media, adding that the company uses an agency from Northern California to handle the latter in order to educate and build awareness regarding the benefits of its helmets.
Not Thinking Ahead
“Sadly, the football helmet I wore in college in the ’80s is not that far from what is being worn today. The same holds true for hockey and baseball,” Esayian said. “Many of our competitors have had a comfortable place in one vertical market, making small changes, protecting market share, and the evolution of helmets has been, frankly, pretty weak.
“I think it’s sad that these verticals have been dominated by a handful of companies that were able to make incremental change versus use all we have learned in other industries (like) the military, aviation and auto racing,” he continued. “We are taking what has been learned in that space and applying it to all the silos of sports… The fact that we have five helmets at the top of the charts, two of them with never before seen scores, having only started the company a year ago, demonstrates what we can do as we engage more substantive resources and funding.”
Some of those resources include LIGHT’s C-level team, said Esayian, which counts on the likes of Dr. Tal David, former head physician of the Chargers, Dr. Shawn Evans, former chief of staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla and noted trauma specialist, Dr. Nicole Friedman, head of psychology at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, and various other physical therapists, neurologists and entrepreneurs as well as one pediatrician, he said.
For now, Esayian will continue to leverage the company’s resources in hopes of progressing the LIGHT brand. Currently, Esayian said LIGHT is bringing its products to the stick ball and puck marketplace, and, in the future, will release soft hockey, lacrosse and baseball helmets. <