Start-Up Ventures Clinic Helps Duke Entrepreneurs Launch Sportswear Company Protect3d


Patrick O’Connell JD / LLM ’20 and Neil Datar ’20 knew they had a winner when they first met at Start-Up Ventures Clinic with new client Protect3d.

Protect3d had previously won grants and generated considerable buzz in the sports world for its product – custom, 3D printed protective pads for athletes based on a 3D scan – and the three Duke engineering students who took it. founded were ready to start raising funds, adding staff, manufacturing and sales. So when they brought their legal needs to the clinic last August and clicked with O’Connell and Datar, it kicked off an exciting year of learning and skill building that the two recent graduates call the best experience ever. their Duke Law career.

“The founders are about our age, and we picked them at such a cool time, when they went from idea to building on the business side, in the real world,” said O’Connell, who has obtained an LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship with his JD.

“I remember our first meeting with our clients where they were so excited to show us their pitch deck and really sell the idea. I was sold immediately and saw the promise. I could see it growing and wanted it to happen. “

The Start-Up Ventures Clinic, led by Clinical Professor Bryan McGann LLM ’14, Director of the Clinic, and Thomas Williams, Senior Lecturer, his supervising lawyer, provides legal advice and assistance to entrepreneurs and phased businesses. of the communities of Duke and Greater Durham. who could not otherwise afford the private sector legal fees.

During their first semester at the Start-Up Ventures Clinic, O’Connell and Datar drafted client contracts and employee agreements, navigated securities regulations to help organize an initial fundraiser, learned how registering a medical device with the Food and Drug Administration, and Continued. It was so gratifying that the two returned to the clinic for a second semester to continue working with Protect3d.

“No matter who we represent, we’ll do our best and give diligent representation, but that just gives you extra motivation to represent a client who has great ideas and a hard-working team,” Datar said. “You just really want to see them succeed.”

Protect3d was founded by Duke graduates Kevin Gehsmann ME ’19, Clark Bulleit BME’19 and Tim Skapek ME ’20, all engineers and former Duke football players. The company creates protective pads for college and elite-level athletes, including their friend and former teammate Daniel Jones T’18, who was the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and is now the New York Giants quarterback.

Because the pads are custom-shaped for an athlete’s anatomy through 3D scanning of their body, they provide a better fit, more protection, and greater flexibility than those produced in series. Jones credited the custom brace designed by his teammates with helping him return to the field just three weeks after suffering a broken collarbone.

Jones’ testimony helped the young company gain clients in football programs including Duke and North Carolina State University. It has since won grant competitions, most notably the NFL’s First and Future Innovations contest, which included a $ 50,000 prize and two Super Bowl tickets, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated.

Although Protect3d initially targets college and professional football players with injuries such as joint dislocations and separations, bone fractures, bruises and tears, the process of producing personalized protective devices based on 3D scanned anatomy can be applied to other sports and markets, Gehsmann mentioned.

“Our goal is to expand our product line through sport, which is our passion, but ultimately we would like to see where technology can have the greatest impact and where we can help the most people,” Gehsmann said. . “Every time we discuss technology with a healthcare professional, we get new product ideas. “

A company founded and anchored in the Duke community

Protect3d has made full use of Duke’s resources from the start. Its first devices were made on a 3D printer at the Pratt School of Engineering, and last summer the founders participated in the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative’s Accelerator program. The company works in a space at the BRiDGE startup incubator, a program sponsored by Duke Engineering in the Chesterfield Building in downtown Durham that supports start-up companies affiliated with Duke, and regularly collaborates with students and graduates of Duke for his business, software and engineering. Needs. It was therefore natural that the company turned to the Start-Up Ventures Clinic for legal assistance.

“Being a part of Duke Athletics we have always felt a level of trust with everyone in the Duke community. This was certainly the case working with Pat, Neil and their supervisors at the Start-Up Ventures Clinic, ”said Gehsmann. “They are great people first, and then great law students. They were really interested in helping us and doing whatever they could to see the business succeed.

Gehsmann said Protect3d hopes to continue working with the clinic as it prepares for a seed funding round early next year. The founders envisioned a nationwide launch this spring and summer before the COVID-19 pandemic effectively put all college and professional sports on hiatus. In addition to using the lull to refine Protect3d’s core technology, business model, and design and manufacturing processes, Protect3d supports the healthcare community by 3D printing personal protective equipment for workers at Duke Health and offering its manufacturing services to other hospitals and health centers in need. 3D printing.

“We saw this as directly in line with our mission to use our engineering know-how and resources to positively impact others,” Gehsmann said. “We hope to emerge from this period as a stronger team and company. “

O’Connell and Datar said the experience not only gave them exposure to a wide range of legal needs, from funding and employment to business organization and regulatory compliance, but also provided insight into the entrepreneurial spirit they will embrace in their new jobs – Datar in Kirkland and Ellis in Palo Alto and O’Connell in Cooley, New York.

“With the Start-Up Ventures Clinic in particular, you are essentially the legal advisor to these companies. So you get a little bit of everything, ”O’Connell said.

“Every time Protect3d wanted to take a new step in its business, we had to determine the legal implications and what we needed to do to make it happen faster and with more certainty. We were all discovering it at the same time. “

O’Connell and Datar both credited McGann and Williams with not only a meaningful learning experience, but also an exceptional level of personal accessibility.

“It has always been beneficial for me to go during office hours and be able to discuss academic issues with the professors. This is how I learn best, ”said O’Connell. “Duke really provided this forum, and the Start-Up Ventures Clinic is one of the most direct expressions of it. Bryan and Thomas are so open to making time for you.

Datar added, “Bryan and Thomas have been wonderful mentors, wonderful advisors and excellent supervisors. I knew the clinic was what I wanted to do and that it would teach me useful skills, but I had no idea how much it would give me hands-on experience in drafting contracts, working with contractors. and working with supervisors and obtaining and implementing transactional law feedback. The Start-Up Ventures Clinic has been my best way to learn and grow, and to add value as a future lawyer.


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