Make it new, make it fast, make it work superbly

PROTECTING INNOVATION: G-Form Executive Chairman Danny Warshay, right, and his team, including Stephanie Thorn, director of product design, and Alex Seagrave, operations manager, are always looking for new uses of the company’s groundbreaking, protective technology. / PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
PROTECTING INNOVATION: G-Form Executive Chairman Danny Warshay, right, and his team, including Stephanie Thorn, director of product design, and Alex Seagrave, operations manager, are always looking for new uses of the company’s groundbreaking, protective technology. / PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY

Isaac Newton left something out when he wrote down his theories on gravity: it can hurt.
At G-Form LLC, a Rhode Island sports equipment manufacturer, the mission is to make it hurt less. The company, launched in 2010, produces athletic pads that prevent injuries but don’t get in the way during play.
“We’re in the business of making the world a safer place,” said Danny Warshay, G-Form co-founder and executive chairman. “We don’t have to pay pro athletes to use our products. They use them because they like them.”
Before the company entered the market, most sports pads were hard, rigid and bulky. G-Form pads, made from a blend of advanced materials, are soft, light and thin. On impact, however, the material instantly stiffens to absorb most of the energy. A moment after a hit, a pad will soften once again.
The gear is also durable. According to Warshay, other companies have attempted to market lightweight pads, but those don’t stand up to water, soap and sweat. “That doesn’t happen with our pads,” he said. “You can throw them in with the rest of the laundry, and it won’t harm them. There’s no other product like it.”
They’re now being snatched up by athletes in many sports, including hockey, soccer, lacrosse, skateboarding and snowboarding. Some products are marketed under the G-Form name, but the company partners with other brands as well. Recently it signed a deal to work with Bauer Performance Sports, makers of hockey and lacrosse gear, to produce helmets, chest pads and other items made with its patented shock-absorbing material.
Building on its success with recreational equipment, the company is now moving into other areas. It is making protective cases for laptops, smartphones, notebooks and other electronic devices. Taking a page from John Cameron Swayze, who tortured Timex wristwatches in 1960s TV ads, the G-Form team has recorded several YouTube clips that show encased items being dropped from great heights or tossed from moving cars, and suffering no damage. “Watch them, and your jaw will drop,” Warshay said.
G-Form also has teamed up with a New Zealand company, Impactwear, to create pads that will protect elderly persons from dangerous hip fractures. And it is collaborating with the United States military to make devices to protect soldiers.
“It’s never a problem coming up with applications for this technology,” Warshay said. “We sponsored a smart-materials course at Rhode Island School of Design, where we challenged students to come up with ideas, and there were plenty.” G-Form was born nearly four years ago. A transitioning startup, the company now is ramping sales across all categories, with 2014 sales projected to be 250 percent of 2013 sales, the company reports.
At the beginning, several of the founders set up a workshop in a North Scituate barn, where they began doing research on advanced polymer materials. They came up with something they called Polyworks that could be molded into a durable composite that is also lightweight and thin.
Many of those involved in the early days had experience as entrepreneurs and were avid athletes. CEO Daniel Wyner is a cyclist, tennis player and pilot. Thomas Cafaro, vice president for innovations, is a soccer player and triathlon competitor. Warshay, a surfer, had co-founded a software company that was acquired by Apple.
“My colleagues are experts in advanced materials and especially molding,” said Warshay. “They came up with an idea for using these materials in a way that’s unprecedented. We have over a hundred patents and a hundred trademarks.”
After receiving some financial support from a small group of investors, the founders took their product to a trade show, where they made a pitch to cyclists. “We got a very positive response,” he said. “Athletes were telling us it protects better than most other products and it never gets in the way. One professional snowboarder told us he forgot he had pads on until he was halfway home from the mountain.”
G-Form is at the forefront of the made in America trend. While the company office is in Providence, the manufacturing takes place in an old Tupperware plant in North Smithfield. Growth has been rapid, Warshay said.
“At this point, we’re focused on adding people,” he said. “We’re hiring now. Just over the past few weeks, we’ve added about 30 jobs. We have about 120 G-Form employees now, and with our supply chain, we’re responsible for over 600 jobs. We’re very proud of that. We source the chemical from Connecticut and the film and laminate from Massachusetts. All the cutting and sewing is done by a contractor in Fall River.”
To illustrate the value of having sources and production close by, G-Form managers like to tell a story about how G-Form quickly revised its iPad case from the 11-inch size to a 7-inch variation and delivered it by hand to a distributor working a trade show in Dubai: In five days from “Go.”
Word-of-mouth endorsements have also played a role in the company’s success. “We’ve got a great brand because we’re reliable,” Warshay said. “The athletes who use our equipment might not understand how it works, but they know they can depend on it. That allows us to have a very grassroots, authentic approach to marketing. Our products aren’t developed boardroom-down. They come from athlete-generated feedback,” which the company calls “locker room-out.”
And Warshay adds that the company is bullish on doing business in southern New England.
“Many of the elected officials in Rhode Island have come by to tour the plant [including Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse],” he said. “I tend to be very positive about this area. We have a steady flow of college students we hire as interns, and then often as full-time employees. We have our supply chain close by, and that allows us to manufacture very efficiently and innovate very quickly.” •

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