Youth football programs lean on crowdfunding to afford Vicis’ high-tech helmet

Youth football programs lean on crowdfunding to afford Vicis’ high-tech helmet

Football is still America’s game in U.S. high schools, drawing more than a million athletes each year. But concerns over the lasting effects of concussions have caused youth participation in the sport to dip in recent years.

Vicis, a Seattle startup, wants to help preserve the game for younger athletes with a high-tech helmet that recently ranked first in Virginia Tech’s inaugural youth football helmet safety ratings.

But many youth programs are finding it difficult to pay the $495 price tag, sparking questions of fairness: should the safest helmet only be available to those who can afford it?

Five Seattle-area football programs announced that they would be using the Vicis helmet earlier this month, but several are from the region’s wealthiest areas, such as Bellevue and Mercer Island, Wash.

Just down the street from Vicis’ production facility in Seattle, the Ballard Jr. Football program launched a crowdfunding campaign that aims to raise $50,000 to pay for the helmets, which are designed to mitigate the forces thought to cause concussions. Neighborhood news site MyBallard first reported the fundraising effort, which has taken in more than $8,000 so far.

“We’re definitely not in the best position to pay for [the helmets] or fundraise for them in our community,” said Andrew Muller, the Ballard program’s league president.

Inequality in youth sports has been documented over the past several years, with some pointing to the high cost of youth sports as a reason for declining athletic participation. In Washington State, the governing athletics association recently approved an amendment intended to help low-income schools be more competitive in sports.

But protecting a teenager’s brain adds another layer to the debate.

Justin Pressley, head football coach at Volunteer High School in Church Hill, Tennessee, told GeekWire that the high price point is prohibitive for most teams.

“I actually really love the Vicis helmets. I would love for our kids to get a chance to wear them,” he said in an email. “If it’s truly the safest, it has to be affordable for everyone if they care about the sport of football.”

Pressley estimated that it would cost $30,000 to equip his youth team with Vicis helmets. For high school teams, the cost would be even higher, since older students need to buy the $950 Vicis ZERO1 helmet.

Nearly half of parents say they would sway their kids away from playing football due to concerns over concussions, according to a poll last year from NBC and The Wall Street Journal. Participation in high school football has declined 6.5 percent in the past decade as increasing research links the sport to brain disease.

Another crowdfunding effort in Boca Raton, Fla. aims to purchase Vicis helmets for schools in the area. The effort was spearheaded by Adam Levine, whose son Miles suffered a serious concussion last year during a football game. Several other individual players and teams have turned to websites like GoFundMe to raise money for the helmets.

Levine said that the players at his local school, who live in a wealthy area, are still “wearing the helmets that I wore when I was there.” Levine received more than $50,000 in support to help pay his son’s medical bills, but has only been able to raise $500 toward the new helmets.

“[The Vicis helmets are] really expensive,” he said. “No public school is spending that kind of money on helmets.”

The ZERO1 Youth helmet is more than double the price of the second-rated helmet in the Virginia Tech safety rankings, the Xenith Youth X2E+. But it’s also less expensive than the third-rated helmet, the Schutt Youth F7, which sells for $570.

The difference in performance between the top two helmets was stark: Xenith’s helmet came in 1.4 points behind Vicis’ on a 5-point scale, which measured the ability to reduce acceleration due to impact.

Vicis has raised $84 million since spinning out of the University of Washington in 2014. After only two years on the market, 28 NFL teams and 120 NCAA programs now use the company’s helmets.

But the startup’s long-term goal is to offer its products to younger athletes. Vicis first introduced the youth version of its ZERO1 last fall and will begin deliveries of the helmet in June. Vicis’ youth version is nearly half the cost of its ZERO1 adult helmet, which retails for $950.

Tony Titus, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Vicis, said the company has invested $20 million into research and development to create its helmets for youth and adult players.

“The thing we won’t ever sacrifice — and haven’t — is to put the money and the time in up front to design a really good product,” he said. “We want to make our product as accessible as possible, but not at the cost of performance. There’s always a challenge when you innovate that you don’t want to leave anybody behind.”

Vicis has group discounts for youth football programs that can reduce the cost of helmets by as much as 20 percent. It also offers financing programs and has partnered with FundMyTeam, a crowdfunding website for youth sports teams, to offer fundraising services at a reduced rate.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers participated in a $28.5 million funding round last year that coincided with the launch of the youth helmet. “We invested in VICIS because its commitment to player safety — specifically at the youth level — is one we wanted to support,” Rodgers said in a statement at the time.

For Muller, the Ballard football coach who is fundraising to purchase the Vicis helmets, the decision to go with Vicis was “a no-brainer.” Muller’s players have tested helmets for Vicis in the past and have even appeared as models in the company’s marketing.

“I love the game of football. I don’t want to see it go away,” he said. “But I also want to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to make sure our kids are playing the game as safely as possible.”

Vicis said it has sold thousands of the new youth helmets, but most programs won’t place helmet orders until June or July.

“Over time, as we achieve volume and cost savings, we are going to pass that along to make it more accessible,” said Titus.

FundMyTeam Announces Partnership with NBC SportsEngine Marketplace

FundMyTeam Announces Partnership with NBC SportsEngine Marketplace

Award-winning team sports funder joins the 1,000,000-team app marketplace.

NEW YORK CITY & MINNEAPOLIS October 15, 2018 – FundMyTeam has joined the NBC SportsEngine Marketplace, making North America’s most-awarded team fundraising platform available to over 1 million team sport leaders who use NBC SportsEngine to manage their organizations. Backed by sports investors and pro athletes including NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, FundMyTeam entered the $3 billion youth tournament, league, club and team fundraising market in late 2017.

FundMyTeam is the only sport technology company named a prestigious 2018 RED HERRING 100 WINNER, the same ranking that identified early tech successes like Facebook, Instagram and AirBnB. FundMyTeam claims a highly-reliable 90% campaign success rate in raising teams’ entire funding goals under 25 days. FundMyTeam’s all-online team sport campaigns, run by expert fundraising Captains, raise more money easier, faster at lower expense from individuals and local sponsors than any comparable provider, with no up-front costs.

FundMyTeam investor and NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott famously said that “No person ever went into youth sports to be a fundraiser.” FundMyTeam was launched by League Network founder and longtime youth sports leader and media entrepreneur Anne-Sophie Whitehead to turn fundraising from a nasty-but-necessary experience to easy, fast and reliable. “Our trademarked mission is Better Leagues, Better Lives®,” says Anne-Sophie Whitehead, “We built FundMyTeam for dedicated team leaders who deserve easy, fast, reliable access to funds so their kids can all pay-to-play safely and often.”

“We’re excited to welcome FundMyTeam to the SportsEngine Marketplace ” said Rick Ehrman, SportsEngine’s Vice President of Corporate Development. “As the go-to app and service resource for youth sports, the Marketplace offers SportsEngine users friction-free access via integrations to leading providers like FundMyTeam.”

“No youth coach likes telling team moms and dads they can’t afford better access or travel opportunities or the best in player-safety,” says League Network CEO Jay Whitehead, operators of “FundMyTeam is here to help team leaders and team moms say yes to the best.”

About FundMyTeam and League Network PBC

League Network’s products, and TLC Sport Summits serve leaders of youth sport organizations in the $19B youth sports industry. won the prestigious 2018 RED HERRING 100 AWARD and announced plans to raise $20 million for youth and high school tournaments, leagues, clubs, teams and sports tech providers in 2019. The Tournament, League & Club Sport Summits are regional one-day professional development events for youth and amateur sport organization leaders. Backed by pro athletes and sports venture investors, League Network’s trademarked motto is Better Leagues, Better Lives®. More at,,

About SportsEngine and SportsEngine Marketplace

Helping the world play smarter and live more, SportsEngine, Inc., an NBC Sports Group company, is the leading software provider of sport life management solutions for 35MM coaches, parents, athletes, and sport relationship management applications for more than 1MM clubs, leagues, governing bodies, and associations. SportsEngine helps sports organizations around the globe reduce the time they spend on administrative tasks, and enables them to focus more on developing their athletes, providing safe experiences, and furthering the love of sport. Learn more at:,; or

Michigan sports venture fund invests in youth-league platform

Opportunity Seed, a Wolverine Lake-based fund that targets sports and tech companies, has invested $150,000 in a youth-league growth platform.

The Michigan fund aims to support organizations with social-impact goals in sports. Its investment in Newark, N.J.-based League Network represents about 10 percent of the $1.55 million total the platform has garnered so far, CEO and co-founder Jay Whitehead said.

The Wolverine Lake fund is an investment arm of Bryan Finnerty, a former member of the Detroit Rockers indoor soccer team owned by Mike Ilitch in the 1990s. He also co-founded and then sold tech company ProtectCell. The entrepreneur was a Crain’s 40 Under 40 honoree in 2006.

Finnerty will also be on the League Network board of directors, Whitehead said.

“There are not that many successful dedicated sports venture capitalists in the country,” he said. “We wanted investors who really understood the youth sports scene, how fast it’s growing.”

Finnerty didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Opportunity Seed umbrella houses three entities: Opportunity Seed Capital, its investment arm; Opportunity Seed Sports, a consultant for sports facilities and sports goods manufacturers; and Opportunity Seed Foundation, which supports youth sports communities with funds from the previous two arms, according to its website.

League Network offers an online fundraising platform, as well as publications with best practices and directories aimed at youth sports organization leaders.

VC Fund Opportunity Seed Backs Sports Fundraising & Media Platform League Network

(July 19, 2018, Newark, NJ) – Michigan-based sports tech and social impact fund Opportunity Seed today announced its investment in Red Herring Top 100 award-winning youth sports media and fundraising platform League Network PBC. Opportunity Seed’s portfolio include sports training software firm V1Sports, all-weather golf apparel company Galway Bay Golf, local sports news platform Varsity News Network, 220,000-square-foot multi-sport facility High Velocity Sports, sports gear donation-with-purchase site Red Truck, sports and fitness stretching studios LYMBR, and sports fan engagement app UStadium.

Opportunity Seed includes three entities: Opportunity Seed Capital (OSC), Opportunity Seed Sports (OSS) and Opportunity Seed Foundation (OSF). OSC invests in the sports and technology sectors. OSS offers consulting services to sports facilities and sporting goods makers. OSF is funded by the success of OSC/OSS and contributes to individuals and organizations to help alleviate the financial pressures that come with the pay-to-play sports models of today.

“For Opportunity Seed, League Network is a fit two ways. Its e-funding solution is gaining traction in the $3B youth sports fundraising market; and its media platform provides a public benefit by teaching best practices to thousands of team sport organization leaders, many of whom are volunteers,” said Bryan Finnerty, Opportunity Seed CEO. “We also like League Network’s commitment to its trademarked motto, ‘Better Leagues, Better Lives’.”

“Investors with strong domain expertise in the fast-growing $19B youth sports space are rare,” noted League Network CEO Jay Whitehead. “We are thrilled to have a person of Bryan Finnerty’s caliber join our Board of Directors. Bryan is a former pro athlete, a youth sports parent, and an accomplished entrepreneur with a deep understanding of private youth facilities, sports industry economics, and the impact of both on community quality of life.”

CEO of technology publication Red Herring Alex Vieux, which features League Network on its Top 100 List, added, “It’s exciting to see companies forge niches that did not exist before, such as League Network, whose e-funding platform is becoming as important as e-commerce in youth sports. As a Public Benefit Corporation, League Network is also among a growing number of tech leaders for whom social impact represents a critical value.” Before they became market leaders, brands such as Alibaba, Google, Kakao, Skype, Spotify, Twitter and YouTube have all appeared on Red Herring’s Top 100 Lists.

About League Network PBC

Founded in 2016 at the New Jersey Institute of Technology by serial entrepreneur and longtime youth league leader Anne-Sophie Whitehead, the company’s media, and events, and its e-funding platform work together to help youth sports leagues grow. The company is backed by famous pro athletes and sports industry venture capitalists. More information at, contact: Diana Zimmerman, League Network,

League Network PBC chosen as 2018 Red Herring Top 100 North America Winner

(June 20, 2018, Los Angeles, U.S.) – Red Herring today announced the winners of its Top 100 North America 2018 competition, recognizing the continent’s most exciting and innovative private technology companies.

The winners, celebrated at a special awards ceremony at the Marina Del Rey Hotel, have been chosen from thousands of entrants, whittled down to hundreds making the trip to California. The ceremony, led by Red Herring chairman Alex Vieux, was preceded by two days of keynote speeches, discussions and finalist presentations.

Companies were judged by industry experts, insiders and journalists on a wide variety of criteria including financial performance, innovation, business strategy and market penetration. Winners ran the gamut of verticals, from fintech and marketing to security, IoT and many more.

Red Herring’s editors have been evaluating the world’s startups and tech companies for over two decades. It gives them the ability to see through the industry’s hype, to pick firms that will continue on a trajectory to success. Brands such as Alibaba, Google, Kakao, Skype, Spotify, Twitter and YouTube have all been singled out in Red Herring’s storied history.

“2018’s crop of Top 100 winners has been among our most intriguing yet,” said Vieux. “North America has led the way in tech for so many years, and to see such unique, pioneering entrepreneurs and companies here in California, which is in many ways the heartland of the industry, has been a thrilling experience.

“What has excited me most,” added Vieux, “is to see so many people forging niches that did not exist before, such as League Network, whose e-funding platform is becoming as important as e-commerce in the fast-growing $19B youth sports market.  As a Public Benefit Corporation, League Network is also among a growing number of tech leaders for whom social impact represents a critical value.”

About League Network PBC

Founded in 2016 at the New Jersey Institute of Technology incubator by serial entrepreneur and longtime youth league leader Anne-Sophie Whitehead, League Network’s media, and its e-funding platform work together to help youth sports leagues grow.  The company is backed by famous pro athletes and sports industry venture capitalists.  More information at,,

5 Best Tech Startups in Newark

The Tech Tribune staff has compiled the very best tech startups in Newark, New Jersey. In doing our research, we considered several factors including but not limited to:

  1. Revenue potential
  2. Leadership team
  3. Brand/product traction
  4. Competitive landscape

Additionally, all companies must be independent (un-acquired), privately owned, at most 10 years old, and have received at least one round of funding in order to qualify.

Looking for a badge to celebrate your awesome accomplishment? Find it here!

1. ONEder

Founded: 2011

“ONEder empowers educators with the tools they need to close the opportunity gap. With ONEder’s award-winning and easy-to-use platform, educators can personalize lessons and make data and goal-driven decisions in real-time!”


Founded: 2016

“The Money-Media-Marketplace platform for the 350,000+ leaders of 41,000 youth leagues in 21 team sports. Our League Growth Assisted Fundraising tool raises $1,000 to $50,000 for teams easily and fast. Our free Media, the print League Network Magazine, online helps league leaders save and learn best practices. League Network is backed by famous social impact, technology and sports investors.”


Founded: 2016

“ is an enterprise platform that automates chat interactions using proprietary Conversational AI that better simulates human style conversation.

Created by military intelligence technological officers, reduced contact center cost and error, increase availability and frees up contact center reps for more value-added tasks.

Unlike other AI tools, BOTique seamlessly integrates into existing service centers workflow and avoids the need for extensive language training or commitment of company resources.”

4. UpChannel

Founded: 2014

“UpChannel is a B2B SaaS business, that helps smartphone manufacturers create and manage relationships with their customers, the device owner. Enabling manufacturers to generate recurring revenue, and create cost savings, across the entire life cycle of each device that they manufacture and sell.”

5. bitgab

Founded: 2016

“bitgab is a social network that connects language students and teachers from all over the world. Since its launch in April 2016, it already has students from 60+ countries.

In bitgab, users can:

  1. Complete new daily exercises and quizzes with vocabulary and grammar explanations
  2. Practice their conversation skills with other users in 1-to-1 video conversations directly through the web browser
  3. Have their questions answered anytime”