Several years ago, Federico Olivares (BUS ’99) saw his 6-year-old son fall off a four-wheeler. The boy’s helmet cracked as his head hit the concrete. Although his son was okay, Olivares felt the helmet didn’t do its job: “I understand that helmets, lined with hard Styrofoam, can really only take one hit, but it bothered me.” He knew there could be something better, and he decided to create it.
Where did you start?
I wanted to create something to go underneath a helmet for extra protection. I watched an NFL game and noticed that players wore skullcaps under their helmets. I thought, what if I put protection in a skullcap? Professional athletes don’t want added equipment to worry about, and kids don’t want to be teased for wearing something uncool.
How did you transform your idea into a product?
First, I Googled to research protective materials. I requested samples from companies and evaluated them based on breathability, comfort, and flexibility of material. Then, I bought regular skullcaps and cut the seams, and my neighbor sewed in shock-absorbing material. We made samples and sent them to a lab for protection testing. Next, I found a patent attorney, filed trademarks, and created a logo for our protective skullcap, called 2nd Skull.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
As an entrepreneur, you have to be relentless. Initially, the manufacturer said that production would be impossible. I had no idea about stretchable fabrics and manufacturing, but I pushed back and asked for proof. So, the manufacturer tried it—and did it.
What gave you the confidence to invent a new product?
2nd Skull is the culmination of my entrepreneurial experience and everything I learned at school. My Pitt MBA helped a lot, leading me to pursue marketing and innovation. I worked for my grandfather’s business in Monterrey, Mexico, which sold buckets for citronella candle-wax producers. I suggested a change in the bucket design, and suddenly a $2 million product line made $3 million the next year.
What was your biggest challenge in this entrepreneurial endeavor?
I only had nights and weekends because I was working full time in marketing at Kelloggs, but I was convinced I could make a difference, and that’s why I went for it. I never played sports and didn’t have a manufacturing background. I had to surround myself with experts and learn. I met Tyler Palko (A&S ’06), a former Pitt quarterback, and invited him to join me. He has experience and connections in high school, college, and professional sports and has been instrumental to our success as 2nd Skull’s vice president.
There’s a lot of attention on concussions, particularly in sports. Can 2nd Skull help?
My company is trying to create awareness for parents. Football isn’t the only sport with the problem; it’s any sport. My son, now 12, wears 2nd Skull when he plays football, basketball, and baseball. My daughter, who’s 10, plays softball and loves wearing her headband. I feel better knowing they’re wearing 2nd Skull.
Cover image: Federico Olivares with 2nd Skull gear.
This article appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Pitt Magazine.