New local owners of SG Helmets hope to protect next generation of football players

A group of local investors recently acquired SG Helmets, an Indiana-based company that incorporates auto racing helmet technology to build a lighter and safer football helmet. The owners group, which includes Encinitas and Rancho Santa Fe residents Nicholas Esayian, Joseph Hegener and Justin Bert, hopes to make a larger impact on keeping players protected from Pop Warner to the NFL.

“Football is under siege because of safety concerns,” said Esayian, CEO. “We really want to save the game of football.”

The group has been making a run at the company since late last year and a deal was finalized in Indiana on Aug. 28. They plan to move the company to San Diego, likely to Carlsbad.

SG Helmets were created by Bill Simpson and Chip Ganassi, two experienced race car drivers that have worked to revolutionize the racing industry with safety innovations. The first Simpson auto racing helmet was introduced to Indy Car racers in 1979 and over the years the technology evolved. In 2008, Simpson came out with a modern carbon fiber racing helmet using a Kevlar outer shell and a special polypropylene foam liner inside to absorb energy from impacts.

In 2011, SG applied that same technology to create a football helmet, given the rise in head injuries and concussion concerns in the game. Esayian said they have sold about 16,000 helmets since they started and have become the fifth biggest manufacturer of football helmets in the country—he has high hopes for the opportunities that lie ahead.

“With the partners we have in place, we’ll be able to quickly jump that up to more units,” Esayian said.

Their goal initially is to dominate in the football space but they hope to adapt the important safety technology into other sports as well, such as hockey and lacrosse.

Esayian is the CEO and founder of Direct Path, a technology platform specializing in audio recognition, media, traffic, and analytics platform for consumer marketing. He is also the founder/CEO of Revenue Solutions, a full-service direct response marketing company. Revenue Solutions has sold over $2 billion in products in the direct response marketplace since 2000.

His motivations with SG come from a personal place. Esayian has raced sports cars professionally for the last 27 years in the Pirelli World Challenge series and said Simpson helmets or similar products kept him safe over a long racing career. He is also a football fan, playing through to Division 3 football in college.

“I love the game. As a high school freshman I was a 100-pound kid, the youngest in my class and I didn’t have a lot of confidence,” Esayian said. “Football was really a pivotal sport for me to build confidence and leadership skills.”

Hegener, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, will serve as CFO of the company. Hegener is a principal with Veraison Asset Management, an investment advisor managing wealth for high net worth clients. Prior to his position with Veraison, Hegener was president and CEO of TD Securities (USA) LLC and vice chair of TD Securities, Inc., where he ran the investment bank, wholesale bank and all of the investing and trading activities of TD Securities in the U.S., as well as the equity and interest rate derivatives businesses worldwide.

Bert, the Encinitas resident who will serve as chief operating officer, comes from a 30-year career in all aspects of real estate operations, investment, development, lending and brokerage. His background includes working for large multi-national corporations, technology start-ups, small private firms and as a sole proprietor entrepreneur.

The SG name will likely change as they will launch a full re-branding, utilizing Esayian’s marketing expertise to provide more exposure than the helmet has ever seen.

There are several factors about the helmet that make it stand out. It is much lighter than the leading helmet in the marketplace and while it is half the weight at two pounds, it offers double the protection, Esayian said.

“A lighter helmet makes a huge difference in the racing environment and in football, a lighter helmet provides a performance advantage,” Esayian said.

The outer helmet is made of bullet-proof Kevlar, the same used to protect open-wheel racers, and the face masks are crafted with chrome moly steel tubing.“

They are much lighter than steel but just as strong,” Esayian said.

Esayian said the key to the helmet is the polypropylene foam liner. Most helmets have padding that does not line the entire interior of the helmet while SG’s foam lines the entire interior to absorb impacts from any direction and also provide a more secure fit. The helmet is also re-sizeable as the liner can be changed to grow with the player.

Currently two SG models are prohibited from use by the NFL. According to Esayian, the previous owner of SG did not provide a current helmet for the NFL’s 2018 testing so they tested a 2011 model.

“The helmet actually performed well but due to the fact that the company didn’t cooperate they were designated with the ‘not recommended status,’” Esayian said.

Esayian said he met last week with Jeff Crandal who runs BioCore, the NFL’s testing vendor.

“We shared our new ownership is committed to working with the NFL and they are including us in all the data exchange related to helmets and concussions from the NFL, the NFL Combine and helmet manufacturer’s meeting in addition to other engagements sponsored by the NFL,” Esayian said. “We will ensure they have our support and a current helmet to test. We are confident they will have an outcome similar to Virginia Tech which gave the SG a Five Star Rating, the highest rating attainable.”

The helmets are certified by the National Operating Committee Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) and Safety Equipment Institute (SEI), and Esayian said perhaps the most ringing endorsement is that it’s the helmet he picked for his teenage son to play football in.

“I have an affinity for football,” Esayian said, adding that he strongly believes it is different than other sports and that the lessons the sport imparted have stuck with him his entire life.

He learned every small goal in the game equates to the next bigger goal; that no matter who you are or where you come from, once you’re in the huddle you’re all part of the same team and you have to work together.

“It truly is the great American game and we really do want to save the game of football,” Esayian said. “I want the next generation of kids to play the game and have the benefit of the best technological advancements.”

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