World Cup champ and Pittsburgh native Meghan Klingenberg sports a 2nd Skull headband. Courtesy 2nd Skull.

Federico Olivares was watching his kids riding electric four-wheelers when he saw his son fall, hitting his head hard on the concrete. His son, who was 6 at the time, was wearing a helmet. But the incident made Olivares realize how limited the protection offered by a helmet is against a serious head injury.

“It bothered me so much, and I started asking myself if there was anything I could add that would protect him or any other kid in that situation,” he says. “What would it look like?”

After watching a football game and seeing the thin fabric skullcaps many players wore under their helmets, Olivares, a graduate of the Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh who was a product marketer for Kellogg’s Co. in Michigan at the time, had an epiphany. What if a protective material could be added to those caps that many players were already wearing?

Enter 2nd Skull, the headgear designed to protect the head with a thin layer of extreme impact material,  which can go from soft and flexible to extremely hard when exposed to sudden pressure or impact.

“The material we use absorbs the impact,” Olivares explains. “People think of it like the material covering up the field goal post” in the end zone of a football field.

The way it absorbs the impact is interesting to watch:

It’s been five years in the making, but 2nd Skull caps and headbands (for sports where helmets are not worn) are now occupying shelf space at retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods, and are being worn by high-profile athletes like World Cup soccer player Meghan Klingenberg and Pittsburgh Pirate Francisco Cervelli.

Pittsburgh Pirate Francisco Cervelli sports one of 2nd Skull's caps. Courtesy 2nd Skull.
Pittsburgh Pirate Francisco Cervelli sports one of 2nd Skull’s caps. Courtesy 2nd Skull.
Pittsburgh Pirate Francisco Cervelli sports one of 2nd Skull’s caps. Courtesy 2nd Skull.

During a recent appearance on the reality TV show All-American Makers, investor Marc Portney agreed to invest $100,000 in the company. “We’re going to make some money together,” he told Olivares. The judges on the show remarked on the timing of 2nd Skull’s products: As the country gears up for the Super Bowl next weekend, there’s more attention on head injuries and how to prevent them than ever before. The Pittsburgh-filmed hit movie Concussion with Will Smith told the real-life story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who researched the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on NFL players.

Olivares is careful to note that 2nd Skull’s headgear will not prevent concussions, but rather adds a thin layer of protection, like a shin guard or a mouthpiece.

“There a lot of repetitive hits that don’t result in concussions, like a header in soccer, or getting elbowed in basketball,” he says. “If we can reduce the impact of these hits, we are doing our job.”

Kim Lyons is an award-winning writer and editor always on the lookout for a great story. Her experience includes writing about business, politics, and local news, and she has a huge crush on Pittsburgh.