Bill Simpson was once a race car driver before he turned his attention to making racing safer for everyone. His company, Simpson Performance Products makes the trademark white helmet that many picture when they think of motor racing safety. While his company has been making racing safety equipment for more than 50 years, they have rarely strayed from the automotive world.
That was the case until Mr. Simpson had a chance meeting in a local bar with an offensive coordinator from the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. The two hit it off and Simpson was offered a pair of tickets for an upcoming game. At that particular game Colts receiver Austin Collie was struck hard in the head and ended up being removed from the field on a stretcher. When Simpson asked about Collie’s condition, he was aghast when told that this kind of thing was “part of the game” and it happened all the time.
Although the applications might seem similar, football helmets and racing helmets share very little. The stresses received are quite different as automotive helmets are designed to be discarded after one very traumatic incident while football helmets need to stand up to a season’s worth of smaller blows. Regardless, Simpson was convinced he could do better. The company’s researchers and engineers, in conjunction with neuroscientists and NFL players, tried for six months to improve on the standard design and are now quite confident they have come up with a design that can materially reduce the amount of concussions received by players.
Simpson has said that he could introduce a “band-aid” solution this season that would be capable of significantly reducing impact to players’ heads, but that the helmet he his making from the ground up for next season would go far beyond the current standards set by the league. He claims his new design is 10 times better than the current helmets used.
Every business has potential verticals that to an outsider look obvious, but insiders have long since concocted a list as to why they are not worth pursuing. As Bill Simpson shows, it is worthwhile to stop and reconsider these new verticals the next time an area of expansion presents itself. Simpson is pursuing the sports market because of his passion for protecting people from brain injury, but this is merely the reason he decided to ignore the conventional wisdom that the two helmet designs shared little in common.
New verticals can surprise you, and are often worth a test or two to determine how much of your institutional learning can be brought to bear on an entrenched industry. All of Simpson’s engineers explained how little their helmets had in common with football helmets, yet the speed at their prototyping tells a different story. It took them a mere 6 months from tasking to having a prototype that already exceeds the industry standard. That result shows that although the specifics are different, many of the lessons learned by Simpson over the years can still be applied. In turn, your company might be better at a related field than you know. All it takes is a test and suspending popular belief for a moment.