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Guarding Against Concussions: Startup Auxadyne Makes Ultra-Cushioning Foam For Helmets, Prosthetics

In the battle against the damaging effects of concussions, and with the ongoing need for better cushioning for prosthetics, new tools are always welcome. Auxetic foam is one – it expands as it’s stretched and shrinks when compressed, offering much more effective cushioning than regular foams. (Think about the exact opposites of the ways a marshmallow acts when it’s squished and a rubber band behaves when it’s stretched.) It has myriad other uses too, so when a proprietary method of making this revolutionary foam was developed at Florida State University (FSU), the potential was huge.

It was just what Betsy and Joe Condon had been looking for. She was a nationally recognized industrial health and safety expert, and he was an experienced problem-solver and executive in operations and supply chain in the medical device field, and they’d been looking for opportunities to launch their own manufacturing firm. This was a perfect fit.

They negotiated an exclusive agreement in 2015 with FSU to produce it, and Auxadyne, LLC was born. “We literally started in our garage,” said Joe Condon, the company’s President. (Betsy Condon is CEO.) “We parked our cars outside, spent some money on lab equipment, and started making foam. Now we’re in a 13,000 square foot facility with a couple of CNC machines for cutting and shaping. We’re small but growing.” The company held a seed funding round in August 2016.

The whole thing started when the Veterans’ Administration approached FSU to develop a better solution for padding for leg prosthetics. (In the first few years after such a traumatic injury, the remaining limb may change in volume 20% in day, based an activity level, hydration, and diet, so cushioning is a big challenge.) The FSU Materials Science lab looked to auxetics, which had first been developed in 1987 at the University of Bolton in England. Over the years there have been multiple white papers on potential uses of the foam, but nobody had ever found a good way to actually make it. FSU’s work led to the first commercially viable method of production.

That’s where the Condons and Auxadyne came in. With their production agreement in place, they investigated commercial applications. The foam’s higher production cost was the big challenge. “You have to buy regular foam and then convert it, so it can’t compete with commodity foam,” said Joe Condon. “So we asked ourselves, ‘What verticals need high performance that will allow high value?’”

They chose to focus on three areas. The original target of medical devices was one, including prosthetic, orthotics, braces, and supplemental pads. The second was protective sports equipment. And the third was protective gear for the military and first responders. “We’re currently generating revenue in all three,” Condon said.

As a result, their customers are wide-ranging. In the medical devices field, for example, they’ve developed pad systems for a hinged ankle brace, the Tayco brace, in conjunction with Notre Dame University. They also have a partnership for a hinged knee brace from GRD Biomechanics.

In athletic equipment, they recently won the National Football League’s HeadHealth VI competition. They've also signed an exclusive partnership with LIGHT Helmets to co-develop the LS1 Helmet, the lightest Virginia Tech Five-Star rated football helmet in the world, just in time for the 2019 football season. And Auxadyne has developed an auxetic foam pad for the Classic Equine line of competitive equestrian saddle pads with Equibrand, winning a three-year supply agreement based on the performance improvements they’ve shown over existing equipment. They're working on a variety of racing helmet applications as well.

For the military and first responders, they’re under contract to help develop a pad system for the U.S. Army’s Advanced Combat Helmet. Their early work there has shown big promise. “Our auxetic foam pad system successfully achieved the Army’s challenge of a 100% increase in impact attenuation performance over existing solutions,” said Condon. They’re also working on other military applications, including the design of auxetic foam formulations for aviation helmets.

Recently, Auxadyne was selected as a Sweet 16 finalist in the Cade Prize Finalist Expo at the Cade Museum for Creativity & Invention in Gainesville, Florida. They finished out of the money in that innovation competition, but have succeeded in others. “We’ve won prize money at investor conferences,” Condon said.

Auxadyne is a young company, but the owners believe in the markets they’ve chosen. “We can do pretty much anything, but we can’t do everything,” said Condon. Those markets are keeping them plenty busy. “Our problems aren’t going to go away – they’re only going to change in nature as we head into a phase of market acceptance and rapid growth,” he added.

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