In late December of 2013, Connor Knapp, a promising goaltender defending the nets for a minor league affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres, tweeted a photo that left sports fans and casual observers squirming in their seats. The hockey player had shared a picture of a piece of his equipment that had been shattered by the impact of a flying puck. It was the piece of equipment that protects a male athlete’s most vulnerable and sensitive area – and we’re not talking about his ego.
Whereas some who viewed the photo cringed, St. Louis area innovative entrepreneur Jeremiah Raber saw a business opportunity. By day, Raber works for the Metropolitan Sewer District in Valley Park. At night he produces, from his High Ridge home, a product called Nutshellz. What it does, is what you think it does.
“It is,” says Raber, “the world’s strongest athletic cup.”
So strong, it can resist bullets. That’s right, bullets.
Raber says tests indicate the groin shield he produces from a press in his basement can repel direct bullet strikes from 9mm and .357 Magnum pistol rounds. This summer, an Internet video of the product shown absorbing the impact of flying bullets drew the attention of the U.S. military, and some media interested in the possibility that a homemade product from the St. Louis area might be employed to help protect U.S. soldiers abroad. But, says Raber, the indications he has received back from the defense department is that the military is looking for a system of armor that protects the entire body of a soldier, not a product designed to protect a specific area. So, he says, he doubts he’ll win any military contracts.
So, Raber now is concentrating on the 307 million men around the world who take part in competitive athletics. He reached out to goaltender Connor Knapp via Twitter after Knapp shared his infamous picture, and now Knapp proudly sports Raber’s product. So far, so good, says Raber, about Knapp’s experience, although he says the hockey player has yet to experience a direct-impact slap shot to put his product to its truest test.
Other hockey players, baseball, and cricket players around the world are next on Raber’s list.
“Just like a lot of products in industry today, athletic cups are being made overseas, cheaply, out of plastic. Ours is made of Dyneema, which is the strongest fabric in the world. It’s 50 percent lighter and stronger than Kevlar. It’s used in the big mooring ropes for ships. It’s used in cables for aircraft carriers. What we do is laminate it, add a few other materials to strengthen it, form it into a protective cup and coat it with a composite.”
Raber says he got the idea for Nutshellz after watching a kickboxing tournament in which one competitor was kicked in the groin and spent the rest of the contest defending that area of his body instead of concentrating on other aspects of the match, which he lost.
A Nutshellz unit sells for $125. Raber says he sold about $15,000 worth of the protectors last year, mostly to athletes, police and private military contractors.
Raber, who has spent about $100,000 of his own money developing the product, says plans are in the works to make a pitch for funding from the popular reality television program Shark Tank, a forum that Raber believes would be perfect for the broadcast of his video that shows an athletic cup absorbing the impact of a 9mm bullet.
Raber is a 1995 graduate of Bishop DuBourg High School in South St. Louis. In an interesting sidebar, that same class produced another entrepreneur of some note: Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter.