The Entrepreneurs

As a parent with children playing youth sports, Greg Merril noticed the attention being paid to the danger of concussion injuries. The entrepreneur and medical device developer saw an opportunity to do something about the concussion problem. He and co-founders developed a technology to monitor for concussions with a device that mounts on the helmet and can be used in football, hockey, lacrosse and other sports to alert when an athlete suffers a potentially dangerous impact.

The Pitch

Greg Merril, founder and chief executive

“We help coaches identify players who should be evaluated for concussion. Our goal is to help prevent further injury or even death. Brain Sentry’s helmet-mounted sensor flashes an alert when an athlete sustains a potentially dangerous impact.

“The sensor mounts to the back of a sports helmet. It never needs a battery change or to be switched on or off. It uses a new type of accelerometer technology that senses a hit. If the hit is hard enough, the sensor flashes red to indicate a threshold of a 25 percent possibility of a concussion. Coaches then have an objective measure to know when to pull a player off the field

“Youth players have developing brains, so they can suffer secondary impact syndrome — massive brain damage or even death when receiving a second hit while playing with a concussion. Parents are taking kids out of sports because of their fear of brain injuries. We want to keep kids in sports for all of the benefits that they provide.

“One of the best things about Brain Sentry is that the device is affordable — well under $50 for each sensor. This makes it much more feasible for youth teams when compared to other devices currently available that can cost $1,500 or more per player. One key feature of Brain Sentry’s technology is that it also tracks cumulative hits.

“We’re targeting football, hockey and lacrosse teams and leagues first, and also parents. Most of our customers include coaches who are strong advocates for the players. But we have experienced a vocal minority of ‘old-school’ coaches who are less concerned about safety and more concerned about winning. These coaches don’t want anything to do with the sensor. These coaches are also often respected members of our customer organizations. Is there a non-adversarial way to effectively market to these vocal nay-saying coaches?”

The advice

Elana Fine, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“Brain Sentry’s ultimate customers are parents. You need to educate them on the dangers of concussions and what your device can offer, then rely on them to advocate to the hold-out coaches.

“Like with any new technology that requires a change of behavior, you will need to spend part of your marketing budget on raising awareness and general education of a large audience rather than targeting specific customers. Look for PR and press opportunities to help highlight this safety issue.

“Players, parents and coaches are all integral to making your product successful in increasing safety on the field and reducing concussions. All of those audiences should also be involved in your sales process. Kids rely on their coaches to make the right calls, but in this case coaches are really the last piece of the sales process.

“Your rollout and marketing/branding strategy should include some sort of incentive for coaches to be vigilant when monitoring players. Perhaps there is a way to reward and acknowledge the coaches that are really saving lives.

“Enlist celebrity football coaches or players in an education campaign to encourage naysayer coaches to adopt the technology.”