The sharp cracking of helmets elicits a huge roar and slight grimace from the crowd. One football player is temporarily stunned, lying motionless on the field, but that hit will make every high light reel for the next week. The cheering is all good-natured of course because eventually that player will return to his feet and to his position on the field.
This happens all to often in football, or any sport for that matter. Athletes sustain serious blows to the head, frequently resulting in concussions, and simply walk it off back to the line of scrimmage.
Tanner Avery, a senior on the rugby team, knows this all too well.
“I’ve hidden concussions from my coach because I’ve wanted to play,” Avery said. “I’ve not remembered halves of games. I have game film that I don’t remember playing.”
Avery is by no means alone in his experiences. Senior quarterback David Ash who attempted a comeback after sustaining a season ending concussion in 2013, “got his bell rung” early in the game against BYU, but continued to play through. Now, he will never take a snap again.
“In those high stress situations, rules, common sense, that all gets bent,” Avery said. “And that’s not going to be solved by the players or the organizations… The current forces at work are not being held accountable.”
That’s why Avery decided to take matters into his own hands and create Gray Matter Technologies. Yes, it has the same name as Walter White’s company in Breaking Bad, but a slightly different focus. Avery’s start up company is currently concentrating on creating a high tech mouth guard, which he is calling “G-Force,” that will alert the wearer of potential brain injuries.
“We use high tech sensors that we imbed in our mouth pieces, they’re completely sealed,” Avery explained simply. “Then we send this data, which records every single motion you make, to a mobile device.”
The G-Force mobile app alerts you with a direct message stating whether or not an athlete suffered a blow severe enough to warrant secondary testing and evaluation. And it’s not limited to football or rugby.
“Our product is not sport specific. You don’t need a helmet to use our product,” Avery said. “We want anyone in the world playing a sport to be able to use this mouth guard as a diagnostic tool.”
Similar products to the “G-Force” mouth guard do exist, but Avery claims his will be equal quality for a lesser price.
“We don’t believe [the competition] is cost effective. 150 dollars, that’s a bit much,” he said. “A mouthpiece can be bought by a single mother whereas a helmet maybe costs 300 dollars by itself.”
However, working hard on creating a successful company isn’t always easy when you also have to balance majoring in mechanical engineering and playing rugby. But that’s what Longhorn Startup Lab is for.
Essentially, Longhorn Startup Lab is a three-hour course in which highly experienced entrepreneurs, like Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet and founder of 3Com, a multibillion dollar company, advise and mentor students as they attempt to create their own companies. But you can’t just go online and register. The application process is rigorous.
Metcalfe makes it sound simple. “They apply, we review,” he said. “If we can help them advance their product we admit them.”
If only it were that easy. Avery worked for eight months to prepare his application.
“It’s incredibly difficult,” Avery said. “We had to demonstrate a viable product, get a business plan, get a prototype, start working with suppliers. We really had to go through every single step of the process.”
Avery was accepted into the program about two weeks ago and is now receiving what he says is “invaluable” assistance from Metcalfe and other mentors.
“It’s hard to define what success is in this program,” Metcalfe said. “But I would say about 50 total companies/products created here are still in existence.”
In 12 months, when Avery has graduated, he plans to still be working on expanding Gray Matter Technologies. By that time he hopes to be selling units to “anyone and everyone who needs it.” Although there is no cure-all for concussions, Avery hopes that every single athlete in a contact sport will eventually incorporate his product into their game day attire.