Protective Equipment for the Next Generation of Athletes

NFL Legend Shawn Springs has a unique perspective on player health and safety.

"I played 13 years in the NFL, my father played 9 years in the NFL and now my sons are playing college football," Springs said.

As CEO of Windpact, Springs is using what he learned during a 13-year NFL career to develop breakthrough technologies that improve protective equipment.

"I'm just trying to do my part for the next generation of athletes, whether it's my kids or the players that [come] behind me," Springs said.

Driving Progress Through Innovation

Springs gave a winning pitch in front of a live audience at the 2017 1st and Future Super Bowl start-up competition. The NFL and Football Research, Inc. (FRI) also awarded Windpact a HeadHealthTECH Challenge grant of $148,000 to support prototyping and testing of its Crash Cloud technology.

Over the past several years, the NFL has driven industry-disrupting advancements through a series of open innovation competitions and partnerships, including the NFL/GE Head Health Challenges, the HeadHealthTECH Challenge series, and the annual 1st and Future competitions. Many of the technologies developed with the help of these grant challenges, such as Windpact's, are already working towards improving protective equipment on the field and beyond.

Springs said crowdsourcing initiatives can help make a real difference for innovators and entrepreneurs who have big ideas but "don't have proper funding to support or even investigate those ideas."

"Winning the grant from the NFL was invaluable – not just the financial support but having access to some of the best medical professionals in the world giving you insight to build better technology," Springs said.

Repurposing Technology for Football

It was protection by a baby car seat that led Springs to get involved in protective equipment technology.

Driving home with his young songs after visiting family in Virginia, Springs and his family were in a bad car accident. His five-year-old son emerged from the collision "without a scratch," Springs said. "This technology saved my son's life."

Inspired, he saw an opportunity to repurpose the technology for football helmets.

Crash Cloud Technology

Springs pulled together a team of engineers that designed Windpact's Crash Cloud technology, a liner system intended to protect the head from impacts at a variety of speeds and angles.

Although no helmet can entirely eliminate the risk of concussion, the padding system, which can be used in existing helmets to replace traditional foam pads, aims to address the wide range of impacts NFL players experience at different positions by absorbing and dispersing energy.

"The technology is a unique combination of custom foam and controlled airflow. It's soft on low and medium impacts – and when you hit it, it tightens up," Springs said.

"It can help address the high impacts that you see on kickoff, but also the repeated every-play impacts that offensive and defensive linemen experience."

As an athlete, Springs recognizes the need for advancements in protective equipment, but also the importance of fit, feel and comfort.

"That's the beauty of our technology: it can be tuned. It's a multi-chamber system that allows for it to adjust and fit for any application," Springs said.

That's why Windpact works closely with helmet manufacturers to come up with unique solutions for their particular products.

The Equipment of the Future

For Springs, winning the various innovation challenges was also an opportunity to give back to the game he loves.

"The NFL has given so many wonderful things to my life and now having the opportunity to give back will be a special moment for me," Springs said.

"The day I see our technology being used in a NFL football helmet will be one of the proudest moments of my life," Springs said.

Springs also said he hopes his success with Windpact will inspire other NFL players to make a positive difference in their communities in the next stage of their professional lives.

"I hope to be an inspiration for the next generation of athletes. NFL guys can see me and say you know what, I dream of maybe being a CEO, a leader, being a part of a company that's doing something great," Springs said.

"I'm proud to say I've played in the NFL, I'm proud to make the game safer, and I'm proud of the direction that we're going."