From global studies to entrepreneurship: Jessie Garcia

  • Founder, Tozuda, LLC (Rutherford, NJ)
  • M.Eng., Technical Entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, 2013
  • B.A., Global Studies, Lehigh University, 2012
Having an idea is one thing. Translating it into a product is something else entirely. That’s where the TE program comes in.
-Jessie Garcia

Creativity, passion, knowledge, skills, support, and opportunity – when present at the same time in the same space – can turn a dream into a reality.

Jessie Garcia founded Tozuda , LLC after earning her M.Eng. in TE at Lehigh. The patented technology that forms the underpinning of her first product was developed during the year she spent in her master's program.

Your bachelor's degree is in global studies. Why did you decide to enroll in Lehigh's Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) master's program?

I loved my Global Studies major. The experiences that I had as an undergrad gave me incredible insight to the world around me and an understanding of the different aspects of human intersectionality. At the same time, I worked in my family's business for years – the company is Latin Sales and Marketing in Rutherford, NJ – and have always had an interest in developing and marketing products. I thought that earning the TE degree might allow me to make the most of my diverse interests. The program struck me as extremely unique in a number of ways, just one of which was the fact that those with a non-technical background are encouraged to enroll. I thought it would be a good fit for me.

And were you right?

I'll say... I learned so much!

Talk about that. What did you gain?

TE gave me the confidence and ability to combine my academic background with hands-on skills in engineering and business. Together, as Professor de Vinck [Professor of Practice in the TE program] would say, it's made for a “dangerous" combination in that the resolution to most challenges or problems don't seem out of reach for me anymore. It says a lot that I was able to conceptualize and create an actual product – a sensor that promotes brain injury awareness – during the year I spent in the TE program.

How did you come up with this idea?

I suffered a concussion while playing rugby in 2011 and, in hindsight, placed myself in considerable danger because I stayed on the field and finished the game. This experience, combined with today's national spotlight on head injuries, inspired me to design the Nitron sensor.

What did you do immediately after receiving your M.Eng. in TE?

Immediately after graduation, I worked as an account manager full-time with my family's company and developed my sensor design in off hours. I founded Tozuda in May 2014, one year after earning my TE degree, and went full time with it the following August.

Can you tell us more your product and about the company?

Let me start with the name since people always ask me about that. Tozuda means "headstrong" in Spanish. It has relevance for my product line, obviously, but also for me personally because my grandmother used to call me that when I was young!

Tozuda is an impact sensor manufacturing company. Our sensor is designed to be attached to headgear such as a hardhat or helmet and to change color in response to a potentially dangerous level of force. It's a safety device as opposed to a medical device, intended only to signal the possible need for medical attention. Our first entry to market, the Cabezon, attaches to hardhats in the construction industry. Two additional sensors, the Nitron and the Shipoh, are being developed for the sporting goods and shipping industries, respectively.

What are your daily responsibilities?

Well, I started out as a solopreneur, a one-person operation, but now have four others on my team – mostly unpaid at the present time, some working other jobs – focused on manufacturing, engineering, sales, and research. My primary responsibilities involve communicating with potential clients and partners, coordinating with team members to hit our key milestones, and completing endless streams of paperwork. There are lots of forms involved with a startup!

Do you still have a connection with the other students in your cohort?

I was part of the very first TE cohort and formed close bonds with the other students. We still keep in touch. One actually serves on my Tozuda Advisory Board. Another Lehigh alum, an Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) grad with a master's in Mechanical Engineering, fills the engineering design function on my crew.

How did your mindset evolve as a result of your year in TE?

It evolved in multiple ways, but I'd have to say that I learned to think of everything as a prototype. The only thing we can predict in business is that something will eventually go wrong, but it's rarely a make or break situation. I'm always prepared to observe the current challenge, address it, and then learn from it. By failing fast and often, I know I'm closer to finding the solution I'm looking for.

How are you applying the new mindset and new skills you developed in TE?

My perspective – especially with regard to my own ability – was transformed in the TE program. I now look at everything around me and realize that someone no better than you or me created it. What surprises me the most, perhaps, is how much I use design thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset in my day-to-day life. Ideas come and go, but TE gave me the hard skills to apply the lessons we learned over and over again.

What other opportunities have come your way since completing the program and advancing product development?

I've been fortunate. This year alone, for example, I've had the chance to work with NextFab, a high-tech workshop and prototyping center that b ills itself as "Philadelphia's gym for innovators," as well as to complete NextFab's RAP ID Hardware Accelerator program. And I was a NYC Regional Finalist in AlphaLab Gear's National Hardware Cup. I've also gained visibility through mention in the media, one site being ""

What are you thinking about the future?

My long term goal is to create a product development firm. I want to continuously learn from the people around me and create meaningful, needed products.

Can you share one takeaway from TE that has become part of your business mantra?

Inevitably, roadblocks pop up, and the key in each case is to find the detour...always find the detour.