Three years ago, Rachel Hall was hit by a car as she was riding through the Park and Diamond intersection near Temple University in Philadelphia. The driver didn’t stop. She wasn’t wearing a helmet. She ended up in a coma for four months.
Her brother David and his friend Jordan Klein, then both engineering undergraduates at Virginia Tech, reacted to Rachel’s accident by setting out to figure out why people don’t always wear helmets, and trying to solve that problem. Now they are shattering fundraising targets on Indiegogo as they accept pre-orders for a collapsible helmet that looks something like a baseball cap.
As of Thursday morning, their company, Park & Diamond, had raised more than $530,000, easily meeting its $50,000 fixed goal just a week into the month-long campaign. Pre-orders are expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2019. (Rachel is a long way along in her recovery, and now jokes that she should get a cut of the success.)
“She wasn’t wearing a helmet, and the question was why wasn’t she wearing a helmet?” Hall said. “We asked that question when she was in the intensive care unit, and after.”
Hall and Klein are driven by this statistic: 97 percent of cyclists who died in accidents in New York City in 2005 weren’t wearing helmets. While Rachel survived, they realized how fatal the decision not to wear a helmet could be. They sat down one day and thought “We have to do something about this.”
Hall and Klein won a series of startup competitions while at Virginia Tech, and then received a seed funding round that allowed them to hire their first employees: a former SpaceX engineer and a CBS employee who could lead marketing.
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They have conducted thousands of rider interviews so far. The reasons for why people opted not to wear helmets quickly surfaced. Notably, the people they talked to didn’t feel existing bike helmets were comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, or portable.
Hall and Klein figured they could address the aesthetic problem by outfitting helmets with removable covers that made them appear more like baseball caps. But addressing the portability issue meant figuring out a way to collapse the helmet itself.
Most bike helmets today used a foamed polymer liner, typically a denser version of the expanded polystyrene used in foam cups and coolers. EPS is bulky and hard, incapable of being rolled up or folded. A collapsible helmet couldn’t be built from EPS, so Hall and Klein developed their own proprietary composite material that they say also works as well or better in terms of protection than existing helmets on the market today.
“It’s our secret sauce that allows the whole helmet to work,” Hall said. “Our focus was how do we make a material with less volume that could take as much or more energy. Our helmet uses something completely different. The material is rigid, so at end of day what’s standing between you and what you’re about to impact is rigid and can absorb the energy.”
Unlike traditional foam helmets that might bounce and crack on impact, Park & Diamond claims its helmet shell does not bounce because it’s designed to immediately absorb and dissipate energy. At just eight ounces in weight, the helmet is light, portable in that it can collapse to the size of a water bottle, yet still adequately disperses the energy of a blow to the head. The exterior covers are removable and washable, so Park & Diamond is planning to even enable personalization of designs.
The company already has a number of patents and trademarks and is currently working to meet required U.S. and E.U. helmet regulations. While the first iteration will only be available in adult sizes, Park & Diamond has already surpassed all current U.S. CPSC Children’s Product Certificate standards. Further into the future, it plans to expand into other sports, such as skiing and snowboarding.