Deaths in involving motorcyclists accounted for 13% of motor vehicle related accident fatalities according to a recent study by the US Dept of Transportation. Helmets are 37% percent effective in preventing fatality and 67% effective in preventing serious brain injury. Despite this, not much has been done in terms of the evolution of the helmet. Fusar Technologies just raised a $1.1M to change this. The company is a building a modular technology platform where various safety components can be integrated into their proprietary helmet called the Guardian.
Today, Ryan Shearman, Founder and CEO of Fusar joins us to tell us more about the product, the funding, and the future of the smart, connected safety market.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise? Was it seed, Series A, B, etc?
We raised a $1.1MM seed round, which was led by the Jumpstart NJ Angels. Co-investors include Casabona Ventures, the Chi Fan Group, and Socialatom Ventures.
Tell us about your product or service.
We’re creating a modular technology platform that is designed to transform helmets from passive safety equipment into active safety devices. Our first consumer product is the Guardian, a smart motorcycle helmet. The Guardian features a modular architecture that allows riders to configure their helmet to suit their needs. Riders can easily install and uninstall our various modules, from the Mohawk (the brain of the system) to our patent-pending Eyes-Up Display™. In addition, the Mohawk has been designed to be compatible with a wide range of other helmets; although the full feature set is only unlocked when used with one of our helmets.
What inspired you to start the company?
Back in the fall of 2012, I was hit from behind on the West Side Highway while riding my motorcycle to work. It was almost exactly a year after I got into another accident just a few hundred yards up the highway and it really shook me to the core. I’m not one to sit idle, so I started building something that would make me feel more comfortable on the road and Fusar Technologies was born.
How is it different?
Motorcycle helmets haven’t changed much in decades. They still largely consist of a hard exterior shell and a soft EPS interior. They can drastically improve your chance of surviving an accident (I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the helmet I was wearing when I was hit), but they do nothing to help prevent accidents from happening in the first place. Our technology provides riders with tools that help augment their awareness while being careful not to increase their cognitive load. We’re taking a data-driven approach that supports proper riding behaviors and increases enjoyment at the same time. Riders receive the same utility as they would with an action camera, navigation unit, communication system and more, but we’re doing it all in a seamlessly integrated manner.
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
The Guardian helmet will compete in the new motorcycle helmet market, which is roughly a $1B opportunity here in the US and nearly 10x larger overseas. The Mohawk, which can be used with a wide range of helmets, will compete with other accessory devices that riders regularly mount to their helmets, especially big, blocky action cameras. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, the domestic market for accessories like action cameras, navigation units, and communication devices is larger than $2B.
What’s your business model?
We have a multi-pronged revenue model that centers around the sale of our physical products (Guardian & Mohawk) and a number of associated services. The Guardian Angel Service, for instance, will be the world’s first OnStar-like service for motorcyclists. We’re fielding inquiries from a number of well-known helmet companies that are interested in licensing our tech for integration into their product lines. Our platform has been designed to scale to different helmet types, and eventually we will provide hardware to helmet companies across a range of verticals.
What was the funding process like?
The Jumpstart NJ Angels led our first financing round last fall and we’ve built a great relationship with many of them over the last year. They were the first group we approached when it came time to open the round and they came on as our lead.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
The biggest challenge was managing the raise while managing the business. Fundraising is a full-time job and it’s easy to lose sight of the day-to-day if you’re not careful. Fortunately, we’ve had success attracting some great talent and building a solid product team – which is ultimately what allowed us to continue pushing the ball on development while building our network of investors.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
When we started pitching, investors were quick to key in on a few things: the composition and domain experience of our team, our proprietary technologies and associated IP strategy, and the scalability of our platform. While all are important, I tend to think our team was the biggest factor. My cofounders and I have been friends since high school and our chemistry is great. Todd and I are product guys and Clayton is a CPA with prior startup experience. He joined his last startup as employee #4 and they went public in 2013. As for the rest of the team, our CTO has Master’s degrees from MIT and Yale, our lead developer has a PhD in supercomputing, and we have some really talented electrical and mechanical engineers. We also just hired an optical engineer with a PhD in holography who formerly designed wearable optical systems and HUDs for the defense industry. On top of that, we’re all motorcycle nuts.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We’re running full speed towards manufacturing right now. In the next six months, we’re looking to formally announce product details for the Guardian and Mohawk, begin taking pre-sales, and kick off our beta testing program.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Keep your head down and keep building. Don’t do things because you think they will help you get funded. Do things that are good for your business – those things will be inherently beneficial when and if the time comes to raise funds.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
Historically, we’ve moved pretty quickly, so as long as we can keep the pace up, we should be getting through our first production run and shipping product next summer.
Where is your favorite place to ride a motorcycle in the area on a nice summer day?
Seven Lakes/Bear Mountain – hands down. There’s some beautiful country just north of the city that most people never get a chance to see, but when you own a bike it’s pretty easy to blast up there and soak it all in. Bonus points if you can convince your significant other to ride pillion.