Jessie Garcia, ’12, wanted to graduate from Lehigh with a degree in global studies. She left with a master’s in technical entrepreneurship, a pending patent, the makings of her own sensor manufacturing company and a concussion.
Garcia was a member of the Lehigh rugby team in 2009 when she was struck by another player during a game. She said she doesn’t remember thinking it was that big of a deal.
“A couple of days later my coach called and said he had been watching the footage,” Garcia said. “He just kept saying ‘You got rocked.’ What freaked me out was that I didn’t realize I was hurt when I actually was really hurt.”
For Garcia, the physical pain wasn’t as much of a concern as the lack of resources available for concussion detection. Years later when she entered into the first cohort of the technical entrepreneurship graduate program, this issue would prompt her to work toward developing a tangible solution.
“Early on, especially during undergrad, I would be asking myself, ‘Who am I to develop some physical thing?’ I was the global studies major who was always writing papers in the library,” she said. “Then I guess one day I thought about it and realized that every single thing, every invention, was made by just another human being. Why couldn’t that be me?”
Initially Garcia had the idea for a mouth guard that could help athletes reduce their risk of concussions. After learning that versions of this existed, she opted instead to create a more original device. Working with professor Michael Lehman of the technical entrepreneurship program, Garcia developed the idea of an impact sensor, a device that can attach to a player’s equipment and detect linear forces and acceleration a player may face while in a game. Once a potentially dangerous limit has been reached, the sensor alerts the player and coach. Once the initial planning stages were out of the way, Garcia named her product “Tozuda.”
“My grandmother’s Cuban, and growing up she was always calling me ‘tozuda,’ which means ‘hard-headed’ in Spanish,” Garcia said. “But it’s hard-headed in a determined kind of way, so I always liked that.”
For Lehman, Garcia’s adaptability and flexibility were critical to her success as an inventor. He also credited her start in the College of Arts and Sciences with giving her a different approach to the technical side of entrepreneurship.
“So many people fall into the trap of falling in love with that first product idea,” Lehman said. “(Garcia) didn’t look back and was able to come up with something even stronger because of it.”
Garcia said while other impact sensors are available, Tozuda was invented with the goal of making concussion prevention and safety accessible to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic background. Her aim is to make her product as effective and inexpensive as possible. She also looks to manufacture the product so that it can be used by construction and shipping workers, both of whom are also at risk.
After graduation, Garcia initially didn’t continue working toward developing a Tozuda prototype. She spent two years in a more traditional job before deciding to return to her project. She remained in contact with Lehman and others in the technical entrepreneurship program, recently returning to Lehigh for the Baker Institute’s Creativate event.
“(Garcia) and her company were one of our alumni groups at the event,” said Lisa Getzler, the executive director of the Baker Institute. “Having alums back is so indicative of their experience at Lehigh and how they remain in contact with their mentors after graduation.”
The Creativate event was just one instance of how Garcia has remained in touch with the TE program after Lehigh. Lehman said he brought the newest cohort of TE students out to Philadelphia to meet Garcia at the co-working space where she works this semester. There, she presented a live case study for the students and shared her experience with the program.
Today, she is the CEO and founder of Tozuda, in charge of herself and her other two coworkers. Garcia works alongside her boyfriend Chris Basilico, ’10, head of Tozuda’s engineering department. Matthew Natalewicz, a senior at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, helped with the manufacturing side of production.
“It’s not lonely being in charge of your own company, but at Lehigh you would always have support literally right next door,” Garcia said. “It’s great that you can actually stay in touch with your professors. Professor Lehman’s always shooting stuff my way and I really appreciate it.”
Two weeks ago, Garcia learned the patent she filed while at Lehigh has been issued. For someone with little technical experience going into her master’s program, Garcia and her hard head have come a long way.