A month before Rachel Hall was supposed to graduate, she was hit by a car while riding her bike off campus.
The driver fled the scene at Park Avenue and Diamond Street, but Hall would just begin a fight for her life.
It took a year until she was able to walk at graduation after suffering a traumatic brain injury from the accident that left her in a coma for four months.
“It knocked me off my life course, but every day I’m working hard to improve and create my new life path,” said Rachel Hall, a 2015 criminal justice and sociology alumna and former Division I lacrosse player.
The experience inspired her brother David Hall and Jordan Klein, who were both engineering students at Virginia Tech at the time of the hit-and-run, to create bicycle helmet company Park & Diamond. The company specializes in portable, fashionable helmets designed to be folded away in their water bottle-sized case or a backpack to encourage people to wear them.
After Rachel Hall’s accident, Klein and David Hall learned that she was one of 85,000 Americans to suffer a traumatic brain injury from cycling-related accidents in that year.
“After seeing first-hand [what] the consequences of not wearing a helmet are, we sat down and rethought what a helmet should be from the ground up,” David Hall said.
The two set out to understand why more cyclists weren’t wearing helmets. Through focus groups of young professionals and college students — their target demographic — they discovered that discomfort, presentation and their limited portability deterred helmet use.
The Park & Diamond helmet looks and feels like a baseball hat, but is as safe as a traditional helmet and will meet United States and European cycling safety standards, according to the company’s website. Users can customize the outer skins so the helmet can reflect their look, David Hall said.
Park & Diamond funded most of its efforts through Indiegogo, a crowd-sourcing website. In less than a month, Park & Diamond raised more than $900,000, surpassing its original $50,000 goal.
David Hall and Klein understood conventional helmet materials wouldn’t allow them to change helmet wear. So they created their own impact-absorbing material that allows the helmets to fold and look different than conventional helmets.
Through Virginia Tech’s entrepreneurship program, the team also found funding opportunities. The university’s Apex Center for Entrepreneurs formed a community of advisers, mentors and potential clients for them to work with, David Hall said.
“The professors who were teaching us entrepreneurship classes while we were sophomores saw us to where we are today,” he added. “They have a unique perspective because they’ve seen the company before it started.”
Rachel Hall said she is proud of her brother’s achievements and his ability to not only target a large problem, but create a product consumers want to wear.
“It will prevent so many deaths and traumatic brain injuries,” she said. “People don’t wear helmets because they are ugly and annoying to carry around. Now with his helmet, there are no excuses.”
Ricky Coyne, the coordinator of the Bike Temple program that operates out of the Office of Sustainability, said many people think they’re above wearing a helmet and believe they won’t get hurt.
“They don’t think they’ll get into an accident,” added Coyne, a sophomore economics major. “They’re overconfident in their riding abilities and think they’re above getting in a crash.”
The fundraising campaign ends on Oct. 31. Pre-ordered helmets are available starting at $84 and will ship in February 2019.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, millions of Americans ride bicycles, but only about half wear helmets.
According to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, pedestrians and cyclists represented 45 percent of deaths from traffic accidents in 2017. A current $3 million project along Market Street from 2nd to 6th streets will add protected bike lanes on each side of the street in Spring 2019, PhillyVoice reported.
Coyne said Park & Diamond has the ability to make a helmet that is not only safe, but compatible and stylish.
“I don’t always wear my helmet as much as I should, mostly because it’s cumbersome,” he said. “It doesn’t seem worth it all the time, but if it’s compactible then you can just store it and not worry about it.”
Ultimately, David Hall and Klein hope to put helmets on as many heads as possible, David Hall said.
“Seeing someone wear the helmet and knowing that we could prevent them from being in a similar situation as Rachel makes all of the work worth it,” he added.