Protect3d, a North Carolina-based startup specializing in customized medical devices for athletes, has been awarded $50,000 by the National Football League (NFL) through its 1st and Future competition. The company, which pitched its business in the category of Innovations to Advance Health and Safety, received top prize among four other startups.
With the Superbowl LIV being held in Miami yesterday, all eyes were on American football. In recent years, the sport hasn’t just made headlines for its elaborate half-time shows or results: there has been a growing concern about the safety of football, as players regularly suffer injuries—from their heads to their toes.
In addition to preventative measures like rule changes and training methods—one avenue that is gaining traction in the sport is the use of sophisticated protective gear, which is customized to the player.
Protect3d was founded a team of former football players from Duke University who were interested in exploring the use of 3D printing to design such cutting-edge protective gear. Today, the company offers a range of customizable, 3D printed medical devices, like thumb and forearm guards, as well as solutions for metacarpal fractures, clavicle fractures, sternum contusions and more.
Founded in 2018, Protect3d was inspired by its founders’ own experience with football-related injuries. Daniel Jones, a quarterback for Duke University’s team (who now plays for the New York Giants), suffered from a collarbone fracture, which threatened to have him on the bench for many games. Protect3d founders Kevin Gehsmann, Clark Bulleit and Tim Skapek designed and 3D printed a custom device for Jones’ collarbone, which was less bulky than conventional padding and enabled the QB to take to the field in just three weeks.
Today, the company’s offering consists of a dedicated app which allows users to capture a scan of an athlete’s body. The scans, which take about 30 seconds to produce, are then converted into 3D models which enable the Protect3d team to design custom medical devices for the athlete’s specific needs. According to the company, the medical devices can be delivered within two to three days.
The company says it has 3D printed about 100 custom devices for athletes in football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse and more. Protect3D is also working in collaboration with six different colleges to test its 3D printed devices. At N.C. State, for instance, the company is participating in a pilot project through which it has already deployed 61 devices for 29 players.
With an addition $50,000 in backing from the NFL’s 1st and Future competition, Protect3d will surely be able to advance its innovative offering. The fifth edition of the 1st and Future challenge was hosted in partnership with the University of Miami.