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Capstone Students Mentored by Tozuda’s Jessie Garcia ’08

A Student, a Mentor, and a Life-saving Startup

MSDA Students Travel to Philly for an Inspirational Visit to Alumna Mentor, Jessie Garcia ’08

Two days after the Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII, a group of Mount St. Dominic Academy seniors piled into two school vans and headed for the land of the Liberty Bell and cheese steaks. They weren’t going to a parade, but rather to visit with an MSDA alumnae mentor as part of the school’s first Senior Capstone in Directed Research.

Deep exploration leads to future major or career path

The brainchild of MSDA curriculum coordinators Marissa Muoio ’08 and Kristen Zosche and launched in advance of the 2017-18 school year, the Senior Capstone course must be applied for in a student’s junior year. The new course allows seniors to deeply explore an academic topic, problem, issue or idea of interest to them, possibly tied to a future major or career path, then design, plan, and implement a yearlong investigation to address a research question, culminating with an academic paper and panel presentation. Students are paired with an MSDA alumnae mentor with expertise in a relevant field, who fulfills a yearlong commitment to help guide the students in their specific area of inquiry.

As the Mount vans pulled up to a warehouse in downtown Philadelphia, MSDA alumna Jessie Garcia ’08 was waiting to host the group of seniors, Miss Muoio, and Alumnae Relations Director Kate Sullivan ’88 to a tour of her company’s headquarters. At the helm of her start-up Tozuda since 2014, Jessie has focused her business on creating cutting edge, reliable yet affordable head impact sensors for concussion awareness.

After graduating from the Mount, Jessie went on to Lehigh University with an early goal of becoming a doctor. While she quickly learned classes like biology weren’t necessarily her forte, she was excelling in her labs – working with her hands, building things and taking them apart to figure out how they worked seemed to come naturally to her. Appreciative that Lehigh let her “go all over the place” with her studies including tracks in women’s studies and business, Jessie went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in global studies in 2012 and her master’s degree in engineering / technical entrepreneurship (TE) just one year later.

After a tour of the Tozuda manufacturing facility headquartered at NextFab, a shared “makerspace” that provides access to and training on complex and costly manufacturing equipment including 3D printers, microprocessor development, and metal works tools, Jessie sat down with the Capstone students to discuss her path, her company and her goals for the future.

An entrepreneurial spirit, strong work ethic, and a hard-head

Jessie explained to the students that an entrepreneurial spirit and strong work ethic came naturally to her having grown up surrounded by, then working for, her family’s advertising and marketing firm focused on the Hispanic market. The catalyst that drove her passion toward creating her own technology startup focused on increased safety in competitive sports came in the form of a blind-side hit she endured while playing on Lehigh’s women’s rugby team. She continued to play and without any early intervention or treatment for a possible head injury, suffered post-concussion symptoms for several months.

The name she chose for her company, Tozuda, is Spanish for hard-headed (a nickname given to Jessie by her grandmother). And as a self-described hands-on problem solver, Jessie set off with the goal of creating, manufacturing and monetizing a revolutionary technology that would increase the safety of anyone at risk of a head injury with initial focus on athletes in competitive sports.

Operated by a team of fellow Lehigh graduates and current students, Tozuda presently holds one sensor technology patent with others pending (with a focus on being a lean organization, Jessie wrote the initial patent application almost entirely herself). After many iterations and prototypes, today’s Tozuda impact sensors which affix to athletic headgear change color in response to a hit that’s hard enough to cause a concussion. Fully functional without any electronic components (one of the things that makes Tozuda’s product unique), if the sensor flashes red, you need to “check your head.”

The Capstone students were equally fascinated by the complexity of the makerspace, the development cycle of the sensors, and the inspiration of Jessie’s story. Jessie’s expertise in entrepreneurship, knowledge of emerging market trends and marketing acumen are areas of focus in her mentor partnership with Mount senior Sarah Taffet. Like Jessie, Sarah is a student-athlete who has signed a National Letter of Intent to play softball at Fordham University next year, and is researching the rise of “athleisure” wear and its newfound niche in the boutique marketplace.

Female CEO heading up an all-male team

Along with Sarah, each of the students were actively engaged in a roundtable discussion with Jessie about her business and her goals for Tozuda. Impressive insights were shared by the students on potential future applications for the sensors, and thoughtful questions around topics like Jessie’s equity stake in the company were discussed. The students were engaged and interested, and brought some great ideas to the table. The information-sharing between a young Mount alumna and the current students and the excitement surrounding Jessie’s role as a female CEO heading up an all-male team, focused on creating life-saving technologies was empowering and inspirational.

When asked for some lessons she has learned on her journey thus far, Jessie had several:

  • Everything around you is made by someone no better than you
  • Points of conflict or challenges usually lead to something bigger and better
  • Hire slow, fire fast
  • Listen to your customers
  • Fail fast. Fail often. Fail forward. All of this will help you get better.
  • Adapt or die; keep iterating; keep pivoting
  • Know what you don’t know and find the people who do
  • Go into things you’re passionate about
  • Believe in yourself

As the Capstone students gear up for graduation and prepare their final research projects that will be on display at the Mount’s first ever MSDA Capstone Symposium on May 1, Jessie is preparing to launch a major Kickstarter fundraising campaign. Both Jessie and the seniors are heading toward new and exciting paths, with each hopefully feeling a little more empowered, confident and inspired by having had the opportunity to connect. The journey to Philadelphia was capped off with a visit to Gino’s for a Philly cheese steak, and the Mount vans departed as the city of brotherly love began to clear the streets in preparation for the Eagle’s Super Bowl victory parade the next day.

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