FuzeHub’s NYS Manufacturing Now podcast interviewed Donald DeVito, President and COO of KIRSH Helmets in Schenectady, NY. KIRSH is the only company to completely manufacture a motorcycle helmet in the United States and has a strong local supply chain.
Steve Melito: Hey, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Podcast Now, the podcast powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito, and today we are with Donnie DeVito, Co- Founder, President, and Chief Operating Officer of KIRSH Helmets in Schenectady. Donnie, welcome.
Donnie DeVito: Good afternoon, Steve. It’s great to be with all of you.
Steve Melito: Fantastic to have you here. So, what’s the KIRSH helmet story? Let’s start there. How did the company get started, and how long have you been around?
Donnie DeVito: Well, we’re a manufacturer of a patented revolutionary impact technology, which is focused on safety helmets and particular motorcycle helmets. The technology was invented by Jason Kirshon, who’s our co- founder. He and I met about three and a half years ago. We started the company in January of 2017, but Jay had been working on the technology for about five, six years before that. And he had this revolutionary breakthrough in technology, which is focused on a fluid displacement liner as the core technology, and we see it as the most effective way to reduce head injuries from traumatic brain injury to concussion risk, paralysis, and even death in all helmets include motor vehicle helmets and all the way to athletics.
Steve Melito: Great. So, the name KIRSH then must be a truncated version of his last name. Do I have that correct?
Donnie DeVito: You’re right. In the helmet business and a lot of equipment businesses, specialty equipment like this, it’s customary to name the helmet after the family that creates the technology. So, you see Arai, Chewy, and Burton. Here in Vermont, Burton boards, and Jay Kirshon is the inventor. So, we talk about people putting their KIRSH on when we want them to wear our helmets.
Steve Melito: That’s good. That’s good. So, you guys are in the news a lot. You do a great job getting your name out there, and you’re really a model, I think, for a lot of manufacturers in that way. And one of the things I’ve read is that KIRSH is the only made in the USA motorcycle helmet. Is that true? And if so, what is your New York State supply chain like?
Donnie DeVito: Well, actually it is true. We produced the best American made motorcycle helmet. We’re actually the only helmet company that produces its helmet entirely in the United States. We’re here in New York in particular, and we do have our headquarters here in Schenectady at the Schenectady BizLab, and we have our production facility up in Queensbury, New York. Supply chain is filled with all- star companies that focus on specific parts. The Breton Industries, a great defense contractor over in Amsterdam, New York makes our chin straps for us. We have SSP, Specialty Silicone Products, who we worked with quite a while as we developed industrialized version of the fluid liner that Jay created. We also have sealey machines and the tool machine shop up in Queensbury that we depend on to make a lot of the parts and the equipment. That’s where we house our facility. And lastly, I’d like to mention two companies from Massachusetts over in Pittsfield are East Coast Refinishing, which paints our helmets, the shells, and Cavallero Plastics, which is a family- owned business, been around for 60 years, and they make the shells for us as we build this great helmet.
Steve Melito: It’s a great story, a great made in the US state tale, and certainly the made in New York angle is very strong as well. So, earlier, you-
Donnie DeVito: Steve, wait. And Steve, I’ll mention this. Well, one of the things that we really decided we wanted to do in making everything here in the United States is we found out that if we couldn’t get the part here in the US, we would build it. And so, we would find partners who can make the part for us and who would especially formulate the parts for us so that we could get everything done here in the United States. One of the other things that we’re really proud of is that our final assembly is done by veterans and Americans with disabilities in that facility up in Queensbury. That’s also very important to us as we develop our workforce.
Steve Melito: That is fantastic to hear. So, Donnie, tell me some more about the technology behind the helmet. Is this novel and tell me more about how it works.
Donnie DeVito: You’re right. It is a novel technology. It’s an innovation. Basically, silicone existed for many years, as you know, and polycarbonates, which is what our shells are made out of, has existed for a long time. But putting together the shell and the liner itself is done in a great innovation, a very innovative way. For us, it brings together the technology in a unique way that gives a rider style, safety, comfort, and improved performance. The way the technology works is interesting to me and has been to the people that we work with and certainly the riders that we have that wear our helmets.
Essentially with the technology, the fluid displacement liner is designed to be able to displace energy in an impact, in a more efficient way. So, rather than the old way of doing things with compression foam, where a helmet is deliberately designed to break open and delaminate and to compress the foam on the interior. Our helmet is made in an impenetrable way so that the shell remains intact, and we’re able to then displace the impact, the energy that occurs in an accident laterally throughout the helmet from any direction. So, in the end, it gives a better performance of the technology. It’s repeatable, so the helmet can take multiple impacts at the same time as protecting the rider as they fall from the motorcycle, the riding.
Steve Melito: And as I had mentioned earlier, I see the name KIRSH Helmets in the news quite a bit. You’re all over the place. You’re doing a lot of things. What are some successes that you’ve had to date?
Donnie DeVito: Well, I think our biggest success is in building a great team. We’ve been able to fund this work as we moved from the innovation and prototype into an industrialized product, putting together really an all- star team of individuals that help us with everything, from the marketing and branding to the manufacturing of the product. We’ve also been supported by a great corp and base of investors, which come from this community. That’s something as we’ve always worked at here in the Greater Tech Valley region, is to build the investor base and the ability to fund early- stage companies and that’s something that we’ve been able to benefit by and succeed at. So, I’d say those are two of our biggest successes. One other thing that we’re proud of, because I think it does help us in telling our story is Center for Economic Growth. It’s selected us for the technology innovation award. We were also the first helmet and are the first helmet ever endorsed by the city of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which is the largest rally of its kind in the world. They’re coming up on their 80th anniversary and KIRSH is the first helmet ever endorsed by the city, and we’re the official helmet of the Sturgis rally. So, it’s something, again, to be recognized in the industry and also outside the industry by people that want to build and help grow the company and help us make this to what I believe to be the next billion- dollar company to come out of the capital region.
Steve Melito: Certainly, makes good sense. So, COVID- 19 has challenged everybody in every way, especially manufacturing companies. What are some other challenges that you’ve had to overcome? For example, anything with the design or the manufacturing.
Donnie DeVito: Well, every day is different. You’re solving one problem or another. One day we’re dealing with personnel issues, another day we’re dealing with parts and supply chain issues. We’ve been very fortunate. We have really great partners. We have a great quality control program internally, so we’ve been able to keep things the way they should be as we build this helmet. But every day we have to solve different problems. We’ve focused on the shell and on the liner itself and getting special formulations that are proprietary to our company so that we can make a better product. And with all of that, these things take time, and we feel that it’s very important to make sure that the helmet’s done right. Because in an impact, you don’t get a do- over, so we want to make sure that we put out the very best helmet and safest helmet that we can for our riders and the community that we work with. And so, it takes time, and we face every challenge every day, but we got a great team to solve those problems and I’m very pleased with that.
Steve Melito: That’s fantastic. So, where do you see the company five years from now, if we get together in 2025 and do this again? What do you think you’ll be able to tell us?
Donnie DeVito: A lot of great innovations like Cortex and some others that you might think about. We feel that this cuts through many different verticals or industries. We feel that we can put this liner into a lot of other markets and helmets, applications. We see sports and athletics, of course, we see safety helmets as well. So, I think five years from now, you’ll see us in other verticals. We will probably be in bicycles, we’ll be in construction, safety helmets. We hope to be in some other areas like hockey, and baseball, and in safety. Maybe we’ll be in enhanced combat helmets. Certainly, we’ll build more helmets in the motorcycle business, so we see motor vehicles are our entry point, the CHM- 1 helmet, which is a half helmet. Is where we begin the story, but we will probably end the story with other kinds of helmets for motorcycle applications. So, I see us growing in those verticals. I see us growing in revenue and in staff. I’d like to move our facility from a few robots and specialized systems to an automated system. As we increase our volumes that we want to lower our costs and improve productivity. So, I see us growing in manpower and also in advancing our technology to do this great liner in many different verticals.
Steve Melito: Well, Donnie, that’s a great segue. You’re really setting me up on this one. Well, which is to say if we get together in 2025 and we’re talking about automation as the statewide MEP center, FuzeHub can certainly make some connections and help you. And earlier you had mentioned a name that is very well known, CEG in Albany, the Center for Economic Growth. How did you come to connect with CEG and have you worked with them for a long time?
Donnie DeVito: Well, it’s funny. I was on the board of directors 20 years ago, back when the whole idea of innovating and they coined the phrase or the Tech Valley concept and we were out recruiting for GlobalFoundries and others and working with some of the great leaders like Kevin O’Connor and Kelly Lovelle, and others who were part of that organization as it really began to grow its mission and its capabilities. So, I’ve known about Center of Economic Growth for a very, very long time and respect the mission, and I knew when the time came that we wanted to work with them again to help us. And so, we reached out and looked for ways to be able to grow our mission and support our mission with things that Center for Economic Growth could do. So, it was really the obvious thing for us to do, and really we found great support as they helped us execute on our plans. So, it comes as no surprise to me that they were able to help us, it’s certainly an excellent organization.
Steve Melito: That’s great. That’s really wonderful to hear. And as you can imagine, we do this podcast really for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, we want to share the good stuff that New York State Manufacturing companies are doing, but we also want everybody to be aware that help is available through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership System or MEP system, and CEG and few suburb are both part of that. So, it was really good to hear your relationship there with CEF. But hey, before we close, is there anything else you’d like our listeners to know about KIRSH helmets? What else can you tell us?
Donnie DeVito: Well, as I said, I see this company as becoming one of the next billion- dollar companies here in the capital region. We think there’s tremendous opportunity. We picked New York State for a reason, not just because we live here, but because we know the ecosystem is so strong. We have a great education system here that we’ve already brought in interns that became employees and will grow the company. We have broad reach. We have great support with other manufacturing partners here in the region. There’s excellent support for the work that we do and the funding sources that we need as the company will grow, so we’ve been very pleased. And so, one of the things I’ll leave you with, Steve, is when you’re in the business, you have to understand the pain point and know how to fix it. When I met Jason those years ago, it was clear to me that he understood what the problem was with helmet technology, and he knew exactly how to fix it. But the second thing in building the team, you need the audacity and the confidence to change everything. And we feel very strongly that KIRSH, that we have the team and the deep experience in these businesses, and we have an amazing advisory board that can help us from academicians to manufacturing leadership in this community. So, we’ve just are very pleased to be here. We’re very proud of the work that we’re doing and the people that we’re able to do it with.
Steve Melito: That’s fantastic, and we’re really happy that you took the time to be part of New York State Manufacturing now and again, we’ve been here with Donnie DeVito, who is the co- founder, president and chief operating officer of KIRSH Helmets, a company I expect you’ll hear much more about in years to come. So, on behalf of the podcast, and before I close out, I’d like to remind inventors, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers across New York State that if you need assistance, FuzeHub is here to help. We are the Statewide Manufacturing Extension Partnership Center. We can make connections for you to, really a vast network of innovation, design, manufacturing, support, and resources across the state that can help you grow. So, if you need assistance, go to www. fuzehub.com, 24/ 7. It’s a website. Look for the solutions program. Look for a link to request a consultation with a manufacturing expert and at that point, you and I’ll have a chance to talk. We’ll find out what’s going on, and we’ll find out who can best assist you in your quest to grow and be successful. So, on behalf of New York State Manufacturing Now, I’m your host, Steve Melito, signing off.