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Transcript: Space4U podcast, Chris Falk

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hello, this is Kelly Kedis-Ogborn with the Space Foundation and welcome to the Space4U podcast, a podcast to tell the stories of, and have the conversations with the people who continue to drive the space economy and make space exploration possible. Today, I am joined by Chris Falk who is the president of Heat Sheets, a company that cleverly took a NASA spinoff technology and made it accessible for everyday use by us non astronauts here on earth.

 

Chris purchased the company in 2013 from its founder. And combined his impressive background in business operations and finance with his passion for endurance sports, to both lead and grow heat sheets into the impactful company that it is today. Thanks Kelly. Happy to be here and excited to, uh, walk through what we do and how it interacts and works with the Space Foundation and all the good work that the space universe has sent for us down on earth. I always just real quickly, before you even start, I love going to the space and you know, every year and, you know, getting a handle on all the things that we use every day down here that actually originated up in space. So proud to be a part of it. Yeah, no, we’re happy to have you.

 

Cause it’s, it’s really incredible when you break down the space ecosystem to figure out all the different components and disparate industries that actually encompass it, that people are very much unaware. Yep. I love it. Yeah. You’re an avid biker and runner and endurance athlete yourself. So I am curious, how did you come to know about Heat Sheets and its products and what really led you to pursue this path?

 

Well, if most of the people know Heat Sheets, if they’re in the endurance industry in particular, if you’re a marathoner. So, um, ever since, I guess it was probably, it was yeah, about 40 years ago this year, uh, the founder of the business, uh, used the first heat sheet, uh, at the end of the New York city marathon.

 

And it was really for those of done New York, you end in central park. And your bags, uh, otherwise known as your sweatshirts and your coverage after you’d done with the rays are not close. And so what the medical director and the race director at New York found was they needed some form of protection to get these athletes that had just overextended themselves at the end of 26.2 miles to their bags.

 

And. One of the things that popped in was the, you know, at the time space blanket, and frankly, you know, most people still call this at least of a certain age, still call this a space blanket and one of the things. Yeah. And so one of the things that we’ve struggled with is in the evolution of our business.

 

So when the founder. You first worked with New York and then ultimately to Boston and Chicago and, and grew to be what, where it is now in the endurance market, which is really, you know, you know, we are the endurance market where the clean acts of emergency blankets at the end of the finish line.

 

Everyone calls us every once in a while. I’ll get calls from, you know, races, particularly in international where we’re not quite as strong, that’ll say, Oh, look my. You know, why did my heat sheet not work like it did in New York? And I’ll ask a couple of questions and it turns out it’s not, and where I’m going with that is.

 

So when he first started, really used a Mylar, so a lot of people call them Mylar blankets and space blankets started out as Mylar and. He did as well. Um, and over the years, and really it’s been about 15 years and now it’s, it’s moved to what we do as a heat sheet. The technology is still the same, which is just reflecting your body’s heat back to you, acting as a mirror and in the form of aluminum.

 

Here on earth, the astronauts use gold, uh, because it’s even more reflective. We’re probably 90, about 95 to 96% of the body’s heat is reflected back to you. And in our format, uh, the ones that they use are used and still use them space or gold, and there’s a 99.5%, um, reflective. Sure. Interesting. So I think for our viewers or those listening, um, a lot of people have a, have an understanding about what a Mylar blanket is, but what is the difference between a heat sheet and potential other Mylar blankets on the market?

 

It’s a good question, right? Thanks for asking it basically. So all Mylar blankets or what has instilled is called the space blanket, um, is basically just taking an aluminum or metal and reflecting your body’s. He backed you and it’s. It’s on Mylar, which was a, it’s a, it’s a type of backing, you know, developed a long time ago, you know, and it works well where it doesn’t work well or certain things that are why we changed it.

 

We know use low density polyethylene. Um, and what that means to your regular folks is a heat sheet is recyclable. Right. So Heat Sheets are sustainable. Mylar is not, you know, not going to date is not still recyclable, so it’s not subject to recycling. We, you can recycle a heat sheet and probably 70 to 80% of our events customers do in fact cycle.

 

Um, The ones that are not recycled, tend to be because they’re printed. And that’s the other advantage of what a heat sheet is versus a space blanket, uh, because of the backing low-density polyethylene, we can print on our heat sheets. So we’ve taken what was. Really designed for a medical device basically to, you know, kind of get the endurance athlete or the user, you know, more comfortable into something that’s also, you know, a marketing device or a way to celebrate your accomplishment depending on whether you’re the athlete or the sponsor.

 

So it’s allowed, uh, the races that take what used to be a cost and turned it into a little bit of a revenue center. And then, and then to take it even a step farther. In the retail world, in the outdoor enthusiasts, in the military market, where we spend a lot of time, those folks will use the ability to print on the heat sheet too.

 

A lot of times, uh, print on the instructions on how you might use it. A lot of times in the foreign language, there’s still a lot of these into the Japanese market. And so on what you’ll find on the heat sheets sold in Japanese market is print on how you might use the heat sheet. You can use it as a shelter.

 

You can use it as a blanket, a sleeping bag, like material. You can use it, you know, silver site in, so reflects your body heat back, silverside out to reflect the sun away, much like you would use a sun shield in a car, uh, to reflect the sun away from the car as you park on the beach, et cetera.

 

Yeah, that’s what I was actually going to ask. So with the recyclability factor of it, I know that that has huge implications from an environment factor, but also the applications I imagine are endless because I know that as you started to talk about different markets, you know, military market and others, but I know that you work in a, in a vast area of applications.

 

And I’m wondering if you can highlight a couple of them for us. Sure. Well, the fact of the matter is that, you know, heat sheets. An enormous company. We do not, uh, sort of participate in kind of what I call the kind of the, the fashion industry. So you’re starting to see more and more of this kind of technology go into, you know, clothing into certain outdoor clothing.

 

We tend to be more utilitarian. So. Our products have been refashioned into, uh, things like Debbie’s. So Bibi’s are basically a heat sheet, slightly longer. Heat Sheets other than heat sealed on three of the four sides. So it creates an effect, a bag or a sleeping bag, and then people can use those in sort of very low weight.

 

Low noise. Um, you know, outdoor inviting to either survive or, you know, you have to be comfortable. And where that really matters a lot are things like climbing or in the military where, you know, space is at a premium, right. You know, a lot of times we hope in some ways we hope no one uses our product, but when they do, we need to, we need it to work.

 

And so that’s a lot of what the duty, even frankly, the heat sheets are used for. Interesting. Do you have a favorite client story that inspires you or keeps you driving the company forward? Um, yeah, it’s a good question. Well, there’s, there’s a couple of ways. I kind of think an answer that, you know, the original reason I bought the business was in part due to my background, in the know endurance events business.

 

I had a lot of these in sit in my basement, or they were reused at the start line and I thought, boy, this is. Isn’t this interesting. I wonder what other applications this could be used for, which led me to purchase the business. And I still get a lot of joy. Um, I go to, you know, somewhere between three and 10 marathons a year to kind of help distribute these at the end of the finish line.

 

And it is wonderful when, you know, kind of, it’s sort of what I would call the, you know, the, the recreational runner crosses the finish line and get his, or her heat sheet. And it really, you know, One, it’s a sense of accomplishment too, but they really need it. So it’s great to see them perform and that’s wonderful, but a whole nother level of pride and for the business is what we’ve seen as we’ve moved a little bit into the military in particular, some of the special forces folks where we, we will get calls or we’ve gotten calls that said, you know, Hey, just wanted to say, thanks.

 

You know, we used your blanket and, you know, insert region of the world here and it saved my buddy’s life. Right. So that’s an entirely new sort of, you know, level of pride and sort of reason for. Doing what we do. And then in the, a specific one, just recently, we had the opportunity to work with an and help fund and sponsor Kirstie, Enos, uh, who, for those of you that don’t know it was, she was recently just got the Pat Tillman award in the SPS, but she is.

 

She was a Marine Corps, um, individual that was shot down in her black Hawk and unfortunately lost her legs, um, which would be traumatic for most. She’s turned it into, um, you know, quite a career, both in donating back, uh, to the military and, uh, Paralympic. Community at large, but has also started to really, um, focus on things that she can still do, including all seven summits.

 

So she took it. She exactly. So she took, only took heat sheets with her as her protection device, because again, the weight is critical for her. So her and her team, we provided them with, uh, Bibi’s and blankets. And for her it’s even more important than most because she. Yeah, she’s lost her leg. You know, the ability, you know, she doesn’t have enough skin to kind of regress if so, if she gets frostbite on her amputated leg, it’s really bad.

 

And so she used our heat sheet as her, really her only source of protection all the way up to, and including sort of the very last bit of Everest. Uh, and then for those that. Followed Everest this year. Unfortunately she didn’t make it to the top, but it also shows that she was smart enough to realize that it was a good idea to turn around because there was a conga line of folks up there, but she was very appreciative to kind of have the heat sheet and, you know, we were proud to kind of one.

 

Help her get up there, but to, you know, it’s just, it’s always interesting for folks that don’t know what this is. This is a product is, is one mil sick. Um, and to think that something that is that small and that compact can provide the protection that you need on Everest is pretty cool. Yeah, that’s quite the calling cards for your company.

 

I will say I have some friends that are avid climbers and they always talk about the need to, you know, only pack like five pounds or less. And having something like this and especially that can use and reuse, I think is really impactful because you do have to be very judicious about what you packed.

 

That’s exactly right. Yep. That’s exactly right. You haven’t anything. So working with the military and, um, and working with these different folks that use your product, has your, has there been anything that surprised you, that your clients have used the heat sheet for that you weren’t expecting or something that it did that you didn’t plan for?

 

Yeah. I mean, it, it sort of, uh, you know, it’s completely different than sort of our use of the military, but we have a client, uh, that has created a product called keg sheets. So it’s always kind of fun and interesting sort of how people might use the product, but so they take a heat sheet and they use the silver side.

 

Out, not in a, because it reflects the, uh, the sun’s heat and radiation away from the product. Uh, and you wrap a keg and a heat sheet. So what you’ve got is, you know, a very, very lightweight, yet durable, right? So it’s, you know, unlike standard emergency blanket, key cheats, because it’d be. Low density, polyethylene doesn’t care or rip, um, to the same extent as a Mylar sheet.

 

So you use it to wrap a keg and it stays cold 40 to 50% longer than it would if it was just sitting there, you know, kind of on its own. So kind of, kind of fun, kind of neat. It’s not a huge market, you know, but those are the kinds of things that we, we don’t do on our own, but we encourage people to use the product for.

 

Definitely tailgate ingenuity at its finest. Exactly, exactly. Um, so it’s kind of fun. I love the creativity of entrepreneurs. So he, she is a company that’s part of the space foundation space certification program. And I’m curious how your linkage to space technology and how the use of that logo and seal has helped your product in its sales and growth.

 

That’s a good question. So that was one of the, kind of the key attributes, uh, that led me to invest in the company back in 2013. And what we found is the ability to include the space foundation logo, particularly in some of our retail sales. So here in the, in the U S into the outdoor enthusiast market, but in particular, the international market in Japan, Yeah, the ability to sort of demonstrate and show that there’s a direct linkage to what was used in space to protect astronauts is something that has really driven demand.

 

And we have literally sold millions. Of blankets into the Japanese market, all of which, uh, have the space foundation logo on it. And I can say that, you know, the ability to have that logo and show that direct connection is, was absolutely critical in helping us grow that market. So it’s been great. And do you find that the logo has helped you a lot more with international sales than you thought it would.

 

Yeah, actually, it’s interesting. It’s actually probably more helpful internationally than domestically and international. There is still, uh, you know, uh, a large bit of cache. Um, and, and when I’m traveling internationally, either personally, or for. Uh, with the company, you know, when I say that, you know, my, you know, little business heat sheets, you know, has a direct linkage to the astronauts in the space foundation, uh, kind of there’s this sort of new look of, you know, credibility and all, uh, that is pretty interesting to see.

 

Yeah. I think what’s wonderful about spaces that it’s, it’s still one of those domains that is very odd, inspiring, and intimidating and exciting all at once for everyone. Right. Yeah, absolutely. And if you can, you know, you know, it, it just has to be true, right. If it worked on the moon, it should work pretty well on earth.

 

Right. And I think that gives some people, some comfort that, listen, this is what if this is the technology that they chose to protect people on another. Yeah, sort of outside of our, you know, direct earth balance situation, you know, it should work pretty dang. Well, you know, either at the end of a marathon or on top of the mountains in Afghanistan or hiking, the Appalachian trail.

 

Oh, absolutely. And I can tell you that I am definitely one of those consumer use cases that is like great special forces use it. I’ll buy it. Astronauts use it. Wonderful. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. If people, if people a lot smarter and cooler than us used it, it must be right. Absolutely. I am all about that.

 

I’ve been living through science. Exactly. Exactly. So I always like to ask CEOs of companies. And especially as you’ve mentioned that your technology as a public ability into a lot of different areas. Um, so are there any major problems that you’re looking to tackle? Um, what’s really next for the goals for the company.

 

That’s our biggest focus now is really finding ways to kind of penetrate sale, sell to, and ultimately partner with the military, either the U S or others. You know, we think we’ve got a better mouse trap as far as we know where the only emergency blanket and similar similarly situated products like Debbie’s that are made in the U S but frankly, more importantly, it just it’s a different product.

 

So now all of the. You know, the folks in the us military they’re issued, you know, kind of standard gear space blankets. And the problem with those as we found, you know, 30 years ago, servicing the insurance market is, you know, they’ll tear, rip and blow away. And over time, uh, Mylar will crinkle and crack.

 

Right. And the last thing you want is to have your. Emergency blanket, which is your support mechanism. If you get stuck somewhere unpleasant is to have it either not work or make a lot of noise. And so we’re cautious. We optimistic that slowly but surely, uh, you know, we’ll get adoption in the military.

 

The broader based military groups, uh, and, and work with them. So, I mean, there’s been some good signs to date and I expect that we’d had this call two or three years from now. The military business will be bigger for us in the endurance space. It’s interesting. And, and pulling on that thread. So, um, you’re absolutely right.

 

That noise. Is a critical factor, especially for trypsin and theater. If you need to be quiet and sort of go under the radar, how right now is a heat sheet, pretty noisy and what would need to be the constraints that were read, I guess, reconfigured to make them quieter. It’s a good question. The heat sheet, I mean, it’s still, I guess the wheezy, but not relative.

 

What I would say is, you know, a heat sheet in terms of the noise would be similar to now, it doesn’t stick like a saran wrap or, you know, sort of a, uh, a grocery bag, you know, my, but you, it it’s that kind of material, so it doesn’t stick. And it’s, it’s frankly, pretty quiet, uh, standard emergency blanket. No one that we used to use, and one that’s still kind of called an emergency blanket, but that’s largely made overseas at this point.

 

Those will crinkle and they’re more akin to aluminum foil. Right. So if you think about unwrapping a piece of aluminum foil, and then kind of snapping it open, if you did that in your kitchen, that’s the kind of noise that you would, you would hear. Um, and that’s problematic. Yeah. I mean, and the other thing that’s real different, you know, about them is that, you know, our step will kind of stretch as opposed to, again, a piece of aluminum foil chair now.

 

Yeah, that being said right there, the Mylar stuff works great. Um, you know, and that’s what we used to do. And if you think about what this is for, it’s sort of how we take in space technology down to, you know, those of us on earth. It’s still, it still does the same thing. Right. They needed something to reflect solar radiation.

 

Yes. Is there a way on the case outside of the space vehicles or in, in terms of sort of, you know, You know, the uniforms and clothing that the astronauts use, you know, it’s amazing, but that’s not, they used in the sixties work. It’s really the same thing. More or less than we’re using now. Yeah. Well, and I imagine that a heat sheet has an indefinite shelf life.

 

It just needs to be activated upon use. Yeah. There’s no real activation. So it’s not like a charcoal activation, like you’d think of a warming thing, but yeah. So the key really is. And I, I, I’m always hesitant to say sort of, you know, lifetime, um, but you know, Boston this year used, uh, heat sheets on a roll, uh, that they had been storing for, I think in some cases more than 10 years and they were fine.

 

Right. And so, uh, you know, that’s something that I think is. Yeah, it’s good for our product as compared to, you know, in Mylar blanket that if, once you stored, if it gets out in the sun or if it’s, if it’s in the package for too long, any place where there a fold, ultimately that aluminum will flake off and then you’ve got either something that doesn’t really work at best or worse, it tears in it.

 

It’s gone. Um, and then they’re going to be also, when you think about, you know, sort of application in an outdoor market. So if you’re a, if you’re a, you know, a Hunter or a trail runner, or, you know, you’re outing, you know, since sort of a military application, right? Like you’re not. You very well might be turned into play this in a place where there’s rocks or you’ve been carrying that you’ve been carrying it in your backpack, you know, against, you know, sharp objects like it.

 

Once, once, once there’s a tear in a normal Mylar blanket, it basically disintegrates. Whereas the heat sheet, I mean, you can puncture it’s one mil thick, but then they’ll just be a little hole in it. It won’t, it won’t fall apart. Yeah, we’re pretty proud of. Yeah. Yeah. So I really think is part of the beauty of the product, because it’s a lot of those known unknown factors that you’re, that a heat sheet is going to be used for.

 

Cause I know that you do a lot of work with disaster response and you’re moving more into the military space and, um, you just don’t know the elements that it’s going to be used for. And so the ability to, to use it in, in a various number of applications, but also have it sit on a shelf and not degrade is really beneficial.

 

Yup. I think that that’s exactly right. And that’s one of the things we hear a lot from going back to your, your reference to your friends that are climbers, right? I mean, you can use these things for, you know, a number of different applications. You can use them to keep the sun away from you. And from a solar reflection perspective, you can use it to keep your body heat NGU, you know, in a cold weather environment.

 

Uh, you can use it to create a shelter. Right. Yeah. So you sort of drape it over, you know, with a line and create a makeshift sort of a tent or a shelter. We had another, another company has taken our product and created sort of a pre-packaged, you know, less than pound and a half fully functioning tent for those that are sort of really late hikers.

 

I mean, those are the kinds of things that you can eat, you can do with something. And particularly in the military or people that are. Really worried about weight, the ability to have one thing that can solve multiple problems is really important. You don’t have to bring four different things. This all four different problems.

 

You’ve got one item that can solve for problems. You’re much better. Yeah. So Chris, beyond me, applications that you mentioned, is there anything in particular that you’re excited about for the future? Yeah, there’s a couple of things beyond just sort of our ability to expand into the, you know, kind of the military and outdoor enthusiast space that we’ve seen adopted in certain segments.

 

You referenced before the kind of disaster recovery efforts of the, you know, the scheme as the red cross and the like, and I still think that’s an untapped opportunity for heat sheets. Uh, but what we’ve already seen is an adoption by police and EMS. Services around the country. Most notably the NYTD who replaced all of the cotton blankets in their patrol cars with a heat sheet.

 

What that did is it enabled dramatically less space, um, in the patrol car or the kits carried by, uh, the individual officers, but it also provided protection to, you know, the folks that they’re helping to serve in a, an accident situation, you know, or, uh, your, your cars. Yeah. And the flat tires, I mean, you’re, you’re outside in the cold or the wind.

 

The ability to give them a heat sheet is dramatically more coverage and protection than a cotton blanket. It also allows a little marketing friend YPD so those users seeing the blue bloods, uh, the TV show covering in YPD every once in a while, you’ll see us. You know, some sort of, uh, you know, an opportunity for the police to take care of someone and they will wrap them in a bright yellow blanket with any YPD what that is actually cheap.

 

So pretty fun and cautiously optimistic that we’ll see, you know, more of that with the, you know, the bigger forces around the country. Yeah. And you raise an interesting point about, it seemed counterintuitive to using a heat sheet versus a cotton blanket. And I imagine that it’s one of those products that seeing and using is believing, right?

 

Because if you hand someone a really, really thin sheet versus a blanket, they’re automatically going to generally reach for the one that looks cozy, but the heat sheet is actually going to protect them and keep them warm. Yeah, absolutely. Like, look, I always tell people. Yeah. No one’s ever going to wear a, win, a fashion contest where in a heat sheet, um, no one’s going to sort of, you know, cozy up and, you know, watch, you know, sort of, you know, the, you know, the next, you know, TV show in a heat sheet at home, but you never know,

 

but if you really are trying to protect yourself, You know, a heat sheet is dramatically better. And so a lot of times people will see it trade shows, um, you know, people come on and say, look, I just, I just don’t believe you’re my perfect, well, take off your down coat and put this Eaton on and go outside and then come back in in 15 minutes and you’re going to want to give this back to me or walk around the trade show hall 15 minutes and you’ll be sledding right.

 

In, in some ways. It’s almost too warm, right? It’s not breathable. Right. But that’s not the point. Right. You’re trying to sort of, you know, keep yourself warm, you know, in a heat sheet will be 95% plus of your body’s heat comes back to you versus, you know, an article of clothing or a cotton blanket tends to be in that 40 to 45%.

 

So it, it, it truly is dramatically different and it’s in some ways, a good way to win a bar bet. Right because 95% of the people are going to take a big down blanket as something that’s warmer and. Yeah, they will lose not dimension. Heat Sheets  are also waterproof, right? So, you know, a cotton blanket, you know, or your fleece coat out in the rain is quick, is quickly useless.

 

Right. You know, she is. That’s great. Well, is there anything about the company, the product, your journey that I have not asked you, that you would like our listeners to know. I think so, um, that I can think of, but I do think that one of the things that’s great about heat sheets is, you know, one, it’s a really, it’s a nice business, but to it, it’s pretty unusual.

 

I think to have a business where you’re able to do something where you’re really helping out people. You know, and they’re happy about it, right? So when you, someone finishes a marathon after three and a half, you know, five hours, you know, to, to capture the look on their face, right. When you give them what isn’t a fact sort of a little, one mil piece of plastic or low density, polyethylene with a, you know, with a brand and logo on it and see that they’ve.

 

You know, they need this, right? The doctors are giving it to them. They need it. And more importantly, they want it and they keep it on their wall. It’s really fun. So it’s fun to sort of, you know, live with our customers and know that, you know, we’re getting and something that, you know, solves a problem. And in many cases, especially as we go into the military, hopefully, you know, conceivably saves a life.

 

So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s pretty rewarding, excited to see where it goes. Absolutely. And we’re excited to, to continue to watch your journey and see, um, all the different applications and success that comes from heat sheets. And I want to thank you personally for sharing your time and stories with us. It’s been a privilege for me personally, and I’m definitely going to go out and get some heat sheets for the winter.

 

But I know that our listeners have enjoyed it as well. So thank you, Kelly. Thanks so much. And, um, and I’d encourage anyone that has listened to this. Has any questions, please feel free to reach out to, you know, me or anyone else on the team. We’d happy to kind of walk you through sort of, you know, how it works and, and how we can work with you.

 

Thanks so much. Awesome. Thank you, Chris. I appreciate it. And that concludes this episode of the Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast. Thanks for listening and keep your eyes and ears open for more Space4U episodes by checking out our social media outlets on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

 

And of course, you can always visit us at our website, www.space foundation.org. Thank you for listening and we’ll catch you next time


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Space4U Podcast: Chris Falk, Heatsheets President