Danny Crossman didn't exactly get the response he was hoping for when he went to market with his Shockbox wireless helmet sensor in 2010.
Helmet manufacturers, particularly those in contact sports such as football and hockey, warned that using such a device, which informs coaches and parents via an app when a player receives a hard hit, would invalidate the helmet's warranty.
And though Impakt Protective Inc., the company Mr. Crossman founded in 2010, offered to cover the warranty if a helmet manufacturer didn't, the device, which retailed at $180, failed to catch on. Mr. Crossman and his product were the subject of a Small Business Challenge column in The Globe and Mail in August of 2014.
So Mr. Crossman reached out to a friend and competitor, Jesse Harper of i1 Biometrics Inc. in Kirkland, Wash., to see whether he wanted to combine their efforts.
"We were having a little bit more success here down in the States," Mr. Harper says. "So there was an opportunity there. We combined two of the top brands in the space and it's been good ever since."
The acquisition of Impakt Protective by Biometrics went through in the summer of 2015, and while Mr. Crossman serves on Biometrics' board of directors, the former bomb disposal expert with the British military also works as an account director for a military surveillance company. He declined to be interviewed for this article.
While Impakt Protective made helmet sensors, Biometrics was focused on a smart mouthguard called Vector, which, like Shockbox, also monitors head impacts.
But Biometrics was running into the same problem with helmet manufacturers. On top of that, while parents generally love the idea of a safer sport for their kids, the same can't always be said of the coaches.
"It wasn't resonating with coaches all that much because, at the end of the day, they're there to win, so they're looking for a competitive advantage," Mr. Harper says of some coaches' win-at-all-costs mantra.
While Biometrics continued to sell both the Shockbox and Vector as standalone products, it also has been working on a new product called the Cue, to be released this summer.
Describing it as "Shockbox 2.0," Mr. Harper says it takes the best of both products and puts it in a smaller package – a little bigger than a quarter. It's also cheaper, at $99 (U.S.), making it easier for high-school and collegiate athletes to afford.
The smaller device also could be compatible with other sports accessories, such as headbands or rugby scrummaging caps.
To address the competitive-advantage issues that coaches are looking for, the Cue also offers other data such as acceleration and deceleration, as well as the recording and time-stamping of hits to the head for further video review later. The device can also pull in information from other sensors on a platform that Biometrics calls Athlete Intelligence, which gives a snapshot of a player's heart rate, activity level, sleep patterns and nutrition, among others.
"We pull in all the different disparate data points and we say, 'Okay, coach, out of everything going on with your athletes, these are the things you need to focus on,'" Mr. Harper says.
While the experts in the original Challenge feature had advised Impakt Protective to handle the helmet-manufacturer roadblock by using a David vs. Goliath angle, to engage with customers and to tell a story, Mr. Harper says he is constantly bringing those into play.
"Your article was pretty spot on; we pretty much do the three things you listed there," he says. "Those are in our top five of things we do every week."
The company's results seem to indicate it is on the right track. While the company brought in less than $1-million (U.S.) in revenue last year, Mr. Harper is predicting north of $6-million for 2017.
"Things are trending very nicely now."