Indianapolis-based hardware product development company Glassboard won the award for Service Partner of the Year during TechPoint’s 24th annual Mira Awards gala honoring the best of tech in Indiana.

WATCH VIDEO: Glassboard CEO Grant Chapman and CTO Drew Westrick accept the award for Service Partner of the year.

Glassboard, a hardware product development company, helps solopreneurs, startups, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies punch above their weight class and out-innovate their competition. The team likes to “go into the deep end” of product challenges and also provide business services to ensure their clients’ products successfully get to market and delight the end user once they’re there. 

The Glassboard team often starts with napkin sketches and concept renders from which they begin development, working through product challenges and engineering, helping create pitch decks, operating as fractionalized Chief Technology Officers and providing business strategy support to founders. 

Their work with INO Armor is an example of why the Indianapolis company headquartered just west of the 16 Tech Innovation District earned the 2023 TechPoint Mira Service Partner of the Year award. 

INO Armor worked with Glassboard to bring an academic research project to life, developing a novel, eco-friendly material made from silk cocoons into a material that can replace toxic expanded polystyrene foams (EPS) in products ranging from impact-absorbing safety products like bicycle helmets to product packaging.  

Glassboard’s engineering team demonstrated the material’s technical readiness by building a prototype bicycle helmet using INO Armor Silk Pillow Technology that is has achieved parity with EPS foam-based helmets in US Consumer Product Safety Commission bicycle helmet impact tests. The company was also instrumental in helping INO Armor secure funding to support its operations. 

To get to the point of having a test-ready prototype, the Glassboard team performed research and development on the silk cocoon technology and created innovative structural designs, processing techniques and prototyping methods. They began with small-scale testing of cocoons stacked within plastic shells. Through diligent design and prototyping, they developed a process for converting raw silk cocoons into a Silk Pillow housed in a fully compostable, polymer film made from plant products. Then, they designed a custom bicycle helmet in-house from concept to fully functional prototype for 3rd party validation testing. 

Throughout this process, Glassboard innovated on the core materials and bicycle helmet designs, as well as a custom prototyping methodology for producing vacuum-formed parts rapidly. They leveraged their own Formlabs 3BL large format SLA printer along with vacuum forming equipment at 16 Tech’s Machyne Makerspace to drastically reduce the timeline to produce functional plastic prototypes.  That allowed Glassboard to rapidly iterate and manufacture functional prototypes for impact testing. The work enabled INO to create a composite that can be used in safety wearables, consumer goods packaging and even fine art.  

When Glassboard began working with INO Armor, the silk academic research was limited to small, flat, square test shapes. Glassboard transitioned this research into an impact-absorbing material with comparable performance of EPS, but made from renewable resources that are backyard compostable.  The technological improvements enabled raw silk cocoons to be processed into a final material giving the end product designer freedom with variable thickness, complex contours and 3D organic shapes in a controlled manufacturing method that produces the material consistently, allowing it to compete with EPS in the market.

Having successful test data in hand, helped INO Armor prove its use case to investors and future clients. Glassboard participated in meetings with INO’s potential clients in the helmet manufacturing space to explain the technical aspects of the INO product. The team also assisted in fundraising activities such as deck building, provided technical grant writing services for NIH Phase II awards, and generated and executed product roadmaps.  

These services combined with the technical engineering enabled the solopreneur to transition from academic research to a successful venture-funded, hardware startup.  

The product’s success was directly tied to continued funding and investments raised by INO Armor’s leadership team. Through Glassboard’s technical breakthroughs, INO Armor was able to show continual development progress and de-risk the technologies to further gain support of their investors.  

Glassboard and INO Armor are now integrating Silk Pillow technology into more environmentally friendly helmets with the goal of further reducing traumatic brain injury by out-performing their EPS rivals. INO is in talks with multiple industry partners to take the Silk Pillows past the bicycle helmet concept into other applications such as fragile freight shipping to further reduce EPS’s negative effects on the planet.

The Glassboard prides itself on providing its clients with “technical stewardship.” They don’t tell clients what they want to hear; they tell them what will help them succeed. Services provided to INO Armor exemplify the holistic approach to product development.   

Glassboard began working with INO Armor in Q4 2020 to build a product roadmap. In Q1 2021, they began engineering INO Armor’s new material. By the end of Q2 2021, the material was testing on par with EPS foams in impact tests. By the end of Q3 2021, Glassboard and INO had developed a prototype bicycle helmet utilizing the Silk Pillow technology with no EPS foam, surpassing CPSC bicycle helmet impact tests. 
Throughout 2022 the team continued to improve the performance and decrease the amount of other plastics utilized in the Silk Pillows. In Q4 2022 Glassboard co-authored a NIH SBIR grant application to fund commercialization of the technology. As of Q1 2023, the Silk Pillows no longer have any petroleum based plastics and are fully backyard compostable. They are also vastly outperforming the original prototype helmet. Together, Glassdoor and INO Armor are working to scale the manufacturing processes and build client relationships to provide opportunities for product launch in the bicycle helmet market.  

To prepare for the future, Glassboard is expanding the team and creating long term goals for growth by focusing on talent and culture. The company has built an internship program that enables college students to work directly on client projects and gain real world work experience. 

See All Award Winners from the 2023 Mira Awards Gala.

TechPoint, the nonprofit, industry-led growth initiative for Indiana’s digital innovation economy, honored the state’s top successes and innovations during the 24th annual Mira Awards gala with presenting sponsors UKG, Salesforce and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.

A total of 18 award winners and honorees were chosen from the 141 outstanding people, companies and products that were selected as nominees for their achievements during the 2022 calendar year.

Fifty-two independent, volunteer judges spent more than 850 total hours evaluating applications, interviewing nominees, and selecting this year’s winners. Judges included an impressive roster of company founders, CEOs and presidents, CTOs, CIOs, engineers and other industry professionals.

TechPoint’s Mira Awards are named after the first of the brilliant variable stars to be discovered—the Mira Star. It is also the Latin root meaning “worthy of admiration, wonderful, marvelous.” The awards represent the best of tech in Indiana each year.