As an undergraduate majoring in global studies, Jessie Garcia ’12, ’13G had no clue she’d be leaving Lehigh with a master’s in technical entrepreneurship (TE) or that a concussion from playing on Lehigh’s women’s rugby team would give her the idea to start her own company – one that is now entirely run by Lehigh students and graduates.
Just a year after graduating with her M.Eng. in TE, Garcia founded Tozuda, a company that manufactures impact sensors designed to be placed on headgear and change color in response to dangerous levels of force. The sensors, which can be positioned on hard hats or athletic helmets, work without electronics to signal the need for possible medical attention.
Garcia said “tozuda” is Spanish for hardheaded – in a determined way – a word her grandmother often used to describe Garcia’s personality.
Garcia first developed the now-patented sensor technology while working toward her master’s degree at Lehigh, but her idea for the impact sensor came from an experience as an undergraduate.
During a rugby game her freshman year, Garcia was blindsided and knocked to the ground by another player but continued to play. Days later, her coach reviewed footage of the game and realized Garcia might have been seriously hurt by the incident. Garcia said she felt post-concussion symptoms for about three months after the injury because she had failed to recognize or treat the concussion right away.
“Every time I talk to a coach or parent, they say the hardest aspect is knowing when to pull a player out of the game,” Garcia said. “Even though only a doctor can diagnose, coaches can take a helpful and preventative measure by pulling the player out.”
Garcia’s impact sensors play a role in detecting possible concussions so no one has to guess about the level of concussion. In August, Tozuda manufactured and donated 300 sensors to the Bergen Catholic High School football team in Oradell, New Jersey. The company also donated its sensors to the Bethlehem Saints youth football organization.
Garcia said the sensors are easy to use and urges coaches and players to remember the motto, “If it’s red, check your head.”
Tozuda now manufactures three sensors: the Nitron, which lets coaches and players know when they’ve been hit too hard; the Cabezon, for the construction and labor industry; and the Hero, for military personnel for its ability to withstand extreme environments.
Garcia said what makes the sensor technology so unique is the sensor’s ability to work without electronics. Instead, the sensors operate through mechanical acceleration technology. When someone is hit with extreme force, a dye released into the sensor signifies a potentially dangerous impact.
Garcia patented the technology alongside her co-worker and boyfriend Chris Basilico ’10 ‘12G, whom she met during her senior year at Lehigh.
Although Garcia does not have any full-time staff, she does have several part-time employees, all of whom are attending or have graduated from Lehigh. Her team includes Matt O’Brien ’14, who handles supply chain management for the company, and interns Sean Feick ’18 and Tom Hyndman ’19.
Feick, who served as Garcia’s design manufacturing intern this summer, worked with her to improve the technical design of the sensor.
“It’s definitely cool to see something I’ve been working on for so long become much more legitimate, from the original sensor that we were looking at to the current sensors which are a much more advanced version than the previous form,” Feick said. “I’m excited to see where it goes.”
A mechanical engineering major in the Integrated and Business Engineering (IBE) program, Feick and six other IBE students have been working on a capstone project to help Garcia and her team with technical design, sales and marketing distribution.
“(Garcia) has a ton of energy and passion for what she does, and she always has a constant will to succeed,” Feick said. “She’s never finished with the work she has, she always wants to keep improving, and I think that’s been a big driver of her success.”
Garcia also credits her success to her Lehigh experience. She said her cross-disciplinary education in global studies and technical entrepreneurship helps her understand product development.
She’s also the perfect example of a Lehigh graduate who has used the master’s in TE to its full advantage – the degree fills a recognized industry need by drawing on institutional strengths in the teaching of integrated product development, technology innovation and entrepreneurship. The degree also trains students in the art and practice of creating new companies.
“Not everyone is going to have the skillset that they need,” Garcia said. “But if you’re willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone and ask questions, you’re fully capable of doing it.”
Individuals interested in purchasing impact sensors can visit Tozuda’s website.
-Rebecca Wilkin '18 is a student writer with the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science and Managing Editor for The Brown and White.
December 11, 2017