The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Edward Fitzpatrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s Ocean State Innovators conversation is with John Lopes, founder of Ram Head Sports, based in Pawtucket, R.I.
Q: What is Ram Head Sports and when was it founded?
Lopes: Ram Head Sports makes sports apparel to protect athletes. It was founded in 2019. We created a padded headband to reduce the impact of a collision of any force. Our headband is patent pending, and we are looking to get the product tested. We said that if people want to wear our headbands, let’s create other products. So we started working on knee pads, elbow pads, and sleeves. We transitioned to undergarments to wear under football equipment to provide additional padding and protect the ribs and lower vertebrae. We are in the ramping-up phases, and our goal is to launch our products in late summer 2021.
Q: What inspired you to create the company?
Lopes: In 2018, my son, Daylen Lopes – who was 10 years old at the time – decided not to play football because his mother was concerned about concussions. So we decided to focus on basketball, and at a basketball camp during Christmas break he collided with a player. They hit heads, and it instantly knocked him out. He fell, with nothing breaking his fall. I heard the impact and saw parents and coaches out on the court. I ran out there, grabbed him, put him in the car, and brought him to Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
They found he had fractured his skull. He had a concussion. He damaged his ear canal. He had shifted a nerve in the back of his brain. A neurologist at Brown University said we were lucky. During a four-month recovery phase, he couldn’t participate in school or anything. He had to sit still, which is hard at that age. He was very down. All he could talk about was: When can I play basketball again?
During that process, we started looking for headbands to protect him. He wanted a protective headband that he could wear in a game and not look odd. He didn’t want to be standing out, with everyone looking at him. So he asked: How come I can’t make my own? We sketched out a headband. And that day, Ram Head Sports was born.
Q: How much input does your son have in the business?
Lopes: My son’s input is major in the decisions we make. For every product, he gives me insight. I don’t know what it’s like to be 12 year old in 2021. Technically, it is his business. I want him to become this young kid who changed something that was traumatic to him – and to us – into something that lets you know that, no matter what tragedy or event you go through, there can be a light at the end of the tunnel. You can make a change and better that situation for the next person.
Q: What did you learn from taking part in the Social Enterprise Greenhouse’s Fall 2020 Impact Accelerator, which will hold a virtual graduation ceremony and pitch night on Jan. 13?
Lopes: The Social Enterprise Greenhouse has been great to me. It has helped me to understand what it takes – what you need for your business. It’s me and my son. It’s not a big staff. So SEG taught me if I have all these things they require for businesses to have, we can look as big as we can. Without this program, I would be lost. I wouldn’t have a brand book and understand this type of business and what it takes to get out into the business world that I’m entering.
Q: How is your son doing now in recovering from his injury?
Lopes: My son is 12 years old now, about to be 13. He’s OK, feeling better. He hasn’t really participated in any heavy sports at the moment. COVID has delayed a lot of stuff. But he has been training. We have to strengthen our body and our minds. So when everything is better with COVID, he can dive in and be stronger and a lot wiser and try to avoid these injuries.
Q: What is next for Ram Head Sports?
Lopes: Next is setting up crowdfunding and getting samples together. We are preparing the website and getting the products for photo shoots. I am a mortgage banker, and I have invested a good amount of money to get us here, and I’m pushing to make sure we can launch. If we don’t get enough money from the crowdfunding, we will scale back and start with the headband, the knee pads, and sporting socks.
Q: What is your goal for the company?
Lopes: Our goal is not to just build this business but I want to be able to give back to the community at the same time. I want to create healthy sports environments. When I was a kid, I didn’t have the option of going to the gym at age 10 or 11 and having a professional trainer. Now, that is how sports is. But there is a disadvantage to kids who are not able to train at that level, and you can have situations like what happened to my son. You might never want to play sports again. You never know what could happen. So you need to protect yourself. Our motto is: Protect your game.