Impressio and CU Denver win $121,000 NFL grant to test new helmet material

Startup led by engineering faculty wins second football helmet innovation contest

March 29, 2018
Professor Chris Yakacki and football helmet
Associate Professor Chris Yakacki inspects a football helmet in the SMAB lab. This spring, his firm Impressio will relocate to the Fitzsimons Innovation Campus adjacent to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

The National Football League and Football Research, Inc. (FRI) have awarded Impressio, in partnership with CU Denver, a $121,000 grant to test how the startup’s new shock-absorbing material makes football helmets safer.

In a March 29 announcement, the NFL and FRI named Impressio’s technology a winner of HeadHealthTECH Challenge III. It’s the latest in a series of challenges – operated and managed on behalf of FRI by Duke University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (Duke CTSI) – designed to find and fund helmet and protective equipment innovations.

CU Denver helps entrepreneurs kick off

A CU Denver research team led by Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Chris Yakacki, PhD, developed a breakthrough in liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) technology. The researchers enlisted CU Innovations to lock down the intellectual property rights for the new material, and Yakacki co-founded Impressio.

With its transformational improvements to safety protective equipment, the company is off to a fast start. Last month, Impressio won the NFL’s ‘1st and Future’ entrepreneurship competition during Super Bowl weekend.

“CU Denver supports entrepreneurship and has great programs in place to help faculty translate their ideas to the commercial realm,” said Yakacki.

The high-velocity startup is an example of what the future holds for CU Denver’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, according to the college’s new dean, Martin Dunn, PhD.

“Impressio shows us how a discovery made in a research lab with undergraduate and graduate student participation can rapidly make an important commercial and societal impact,” said Dunn, who took the helm in January 2018. “It exemplifies the college’s holistic integration of research, education and innovation at the intersection of health care and technology.”

Startup relocates to Fitzsimons Innovation Campus

CU Denver’s sports engineering group, led by Mechanical Engineering Professor and Associate Dean of Research Peter Jenkins, PhD, PE, brings essential expertise to the project. The team will build prototype LCE-equipped helmets and special equipment to test them.

Yakacki and Jenkins are the investigators for the Impressio-CU Denver HeadHealthTECH Challenge III grant along with Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering Amir Torbati, PhD, who also serves as Impressio’s director of research and innovation.

This spring, the startup will relocate to Aurora’s Fitzsimons Innovation Campus, an incubator for life-science companies. With state-of-the-art lab facilities adjacent to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, the bioscience park positions Impressio to connect, create and collaborate with business, health care and research leaders.

“This is just the beginning of what is possible at Colorado’s only public urban research university located within a city where new ideas flow readily among technology, health care and business leaders,” said Dunn.