BATON ROUGE, La. - A Louisiana technology startup that makes cooler, more comfortable football helmets has raised more than $1.5 million from investors and garnered deals from major college football programs such as LSU, Alabama and Clemson.
Baton Rouge-based Tigeraire was founded in August 2020. Football players at LSU were required to wear a plastic face shield to curb the spread of the coronavirus but the shield often fogged up and made it difficult to breathe.
Virginia native and Tulane MBA grad Jack Karavich noticed the masks combined with heat were an issue for LSU football players. He originally donated supplies for the devices not intending to build a business around it.
Tigeraire's cooling device uses battery powered fans with a flexible plastic tube to bring air in through the vents at the back of the helmet.
“This new helmet technology creates a similar sensation of coolness,” said Jack Marucci, LSU director of athletic training in a statement. “The benefit is even greater for players who wear protective eye shields because it eliminates the possibility of any fog developing inside that can obstruct the player’s vision.”
After a year of development, Karavich said he's going to be mass manufacturing and ramping up sales. LSU patented the technology and Tigeraire has the exclusive commercial license for manufacturing. The startup inked deals with LSU and other football programs such as Alabama, Clemson, Texas A&M, Maryland and Virginia. The startup also sells directly to youth football players.
The goal is to expand manufacturing to produce 25,000 units each month. Tigeraire is under contract with a temporary manufacturer while it looks to develop its own facility in Louisiana.
It has expanded to 25 employees, most of whom work in the LSU Innovation Park offices. The startup raised $1.5 million from investors for its seed round in December 2020, led by General Catalyst a Massachusetts venture capital firm that has invested in Venmo, Airbnb and TikTok. Karavich said Tigeraire is the first Louisiana business to get seed round investment from a top 50 venture capital firm. Other investors included Atlanta investor David Lightburn, Tulane mentor John Elstrott and Patrick Coogan, a former pitcher for two LSU baseball teams that won the College World Series. Coogan is the chief revenue officer.
Beyond football helmets, the company is expanding to devices into hard hats for the industrial and construction sectors. Those markets are a worldwide opportunity for Tigeraire, according to Karavich.
"It kind of caught us off guard, executives were reaching out to us to see if we could put the football product into their hard hats," he said.