Player safety a focus of start-up competition at Texas Medical Center
Mike Shogren picked up a mallet and hit the dummy’s head. A red light lit up in the dummy’s mouth guard, indicating the hit could have caused a concussion and the “player” needs further evaluation.
“There is a concussion epidemic in sports in the U.S.,” his colleague Steve Washburn, CEO of Prevent Biometrics, said previously during their presentation. ” … Our solution is to take the current subjective, observational, inaccurate and ineffective method and turn it into an objective, data-driven, accurate and effective process.”
Prevent Biometrics, with its mouth guard that measures head impacts, was one of nine companies that participated in the “1st and Future” startup pitch competition Saturday. Hosted by the NFL and the Texas Medical Center, the event’s focus was on advancing sports technology and athlete safety.
Several of the companies showcased products that could help prevent concussions. Last year, the NFL reported 244 incidences of concussion during the preseason and regular season, down from 275 in 2015 and 261 in 2012.
This topic has both plagued the NFL with controversy and become a major focus of its safety initiatives.
“I think the best days are ahead, and our kids are playing the games a lot safer than we did,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
He said the league is bringing awareness, prevention methods, diagnostic opportunities and protective equipment to be used in football and other sports.
On the stage with Goodell was Jeff Immelt, the CEO and chairman of GE. The two organizations have teamed up to accelerate concussion research, diagnosis and treatment.
“There’s actual, real developments that are coming out of the technology and the innovation that we initially funded together,” Goodell said. “And that’s what gives us great optimism about how we’re going to change sports, brain health.”
The nine startups competing Saturday were selected from more than 200 applicants. They were placed into one of three categories: improving communication between the coach on the sideline and the players on the field, developing materials to better protect the athlete, and creating educational or training innovations to reduce injury during practice or competition.
The three winning teams received $50,000 from the NFL, two tickets to Super Bowl LI and acceptance into TMCx, the Texas Medical Center’s accelerator and the location of Saturday’s event.
Rochester, Minn.-based GoRout won the first category. It created on-field wearable technology that allows players to receive digital play diagrams and data from coaches on the sideline.
Windpact won the category on developing materials to protect the athlete. The Leesburg, Va.-based company improves the performance of helmets with a padding system that uses air and foam to absorb and disperse the impact energy.
Mobile Virtual Player, a company based in Lebanon, N.H., won the training category. Instead of players tackling each other during practice, they can hit a tackling dummy that is powered by an electric motor and steered with a remote control. It can do a 40-yard dash in less than five seconds.
Buddy Teevens, the head football coach at Dartmouth College and co-founder of Mobile Virtual Player, said the idea came from his decision six years ago to ban tackling during practice. He introduced these MVPs, and his players became better tacklers and remained healthier.
“I used to be the old-school coach,” he said. “Tough, physical, mash guys up. Now I’m a little bit more enlightened. There’s a better way to do it, and I think MVP is the key.”
Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president for health and safety initiatives, said the technologies from these companies or others the NFL is working with will end up on the field.
“The League is embracing innovative ideas,” he said.