QUEENSBURY — Schenectady-based Kirsh Helmets has set up computerized production equipment in Queensbury and set up shop at the massive Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, where it is the official event helmet.
Now it just needs to get its lids on retailers' shelves and on bikers' heads.
The young company has a helmet design that’s strikingly different from traditional helmets: Its interior honeycomb liner is packed with silicone gel that directs the force of impact away from the skull, rather than using layers of foam to stop the impact from reaching the skull.
Visualize a rock hitting a pond and sending ripples out across the water’s surface — that’s force dissipating through the water. The gel in a Kirsh helmet does the same thing with whatever force isn’t stopped by the hardened outer shell.
Kirsh has landed venture capital, garnered media attention, and built its R&D workshop/production area in rented space at Seeley Machine in Queensbury, near founder/CEO Jason Kirshon’s native Lake George.
The helmets’ components come from assorted suppliers and final assembly is at an ARC facility in Columbia County. But the liner is what makes the Kirsh helmet stand out on the shelf: It’s lighter, cooler and safer than traditional foam helmets, Kirshon said. And Kirsh is making it in Queensbury.
He demonstrated the production process: A robotic tool in a sealed booth pours liquified silicone into a metal honeycomb mold in a patented process; when it cools and solidifies at room temperature, a human uses another machine to inject it with a different silicone compound that remains a gel, then bleeds off any air inside.
Kirsh President and Chief Operating Officer Donald DeVito II said the New York BizLab incubator space in Schenectady remains the home office for the company. But southern Warren County is a good place to do the research and development work because of all the activity in high-tech manufacturing in nearby Saratoga County.
Also, landlord Seeley Machine is a great neighbor to have, as it produces the intricate metal molds Kirsh needs each time Kirshon tweaks an experimental design.
With the half-shell motorcycle helmet design complete, Kirsh is looking forward to products such as construction helmets and sports helmets, each of which will go through multiple prototypes along the way, making the R&D space a very useful asset.
“From where we started to where we are now, everything’s greatly improved,” Kirshon said. “We’ve done a lot of development with the silicone — what’s best, what lasts.”
DeVito said motorcycle helmets were a natural place to start, as Kirshon is a biker, and a lucrative place to start, as more than a million half-shell helmets are sold each year.
Sales of full-face helmets — which Kirsh isn’t manufacturing — are dominated by big companies but half-shell sales are more fragmented, he asserted. “Nobody’s really defending that part of the market.”
Half-shell helmets are also increasingly in demand for urban riding, such as on scooters and electric bikes, DeVito added.
“A lot of bikers have both helmets,” Kirshon said. “For me, when I’m on my cruiser, I like my half-shell. When it’s cold, and I’m on my Harley, I’m wearing a full-face.”
This is the third year Kirsh has a presence at the half-million-motorcycle Sturgis rally in South Dakota.
But none of the upper management was there for opening day Friday. DeVito and Vice President of Sales Operations Greg Melita drove up to Saranac Lake with a box full of helmets to make a pitch to potential investors, and Kirshon stayed back in Queensbury, working on prototypes.
DeVito said none of the three critical tasks at hand for Kirsh Helmets — research/development, marketing and raising capital — is harder or more important than the next right now, as the 3-year-old company tries to get its products out into consumers' hands.
The challenge is doing them all at the same time.
“We have to keep all sides of the triangle going every day,” Melita said.