Meet The Female Founder Whose Tiny Invention Could Have a Big Impact On Undiagnosed Concussions

#PEAlum, #PEIntensive17, female founders, Monday Motivation

Mondays can be rough—sometimes we need a little motivation to get the week started. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from Project Entrepreneur Alumnae—female founders who applied to the Project Entrepreneur Venture Competition to attend our two-day PE Intensive and join a nationwide community of hundreds of women entrepreneurs. Get to know more about the PE Community and #beinspired by how these women motivate themselves each Monday to tackle the week ahead.

Half of all concussions go undiagnosed or undetected. Jessie Garcia is the female founder working to change the statistics and make it easier for individuals to protect themselves from concussions and the symptoms of traumatic brain injury. As the Founder and CEO of Tozuda, Jessie and her team are creating small head impact sensors that make it easier for people to know when they may have a concussion, even if they aren’t experiencing common or expected concussion symptoms. We chatted with Jessie about how she’s been building Tozuda since attending the PE Intensive in April 2017, her biggest challenge building a hardware startup, and how she overcame spending an entire year rebuilding her product from scratch.   

Jessie Garcia, Founder and CEO of Tozuda

What inspired you to start your business?

The inspiration for Tozuda came from hitting my head one too many times. I came up with the idea for my business after I suffered my fifth concussion and realized that I couldn’t afford the $200 sensor that would have helped protect me. [When I had] my last concussion, the only sensors available on the market were electronic and impractical. [So] I came up with the idea to make mechanical head impact sensors that were less costly, less complicated, and could help people like me know when they get hurt.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

The biggest challenge our team has faced so far is probably our redesign from a magnet-based sensor to our current spring mechanism. The magnet prototype was really successful in our lab tests, but failed when we tested them in the field. It was discouraging to have to go back to the drawing board after investing more than a year of time and development into [the magnet-based prototype], but ultimately, we were able to design something completely different and more reliable. With our magnet design, we could only sense impacts from a single direction, but [now that we’ve switched] to a spring-based trigger, our sensors can detect both linear and rotational forces from any direction.

What’s been the greatest reward?

I think the most rewarding aspect of our work is that we are developing something practical and accessible for all. Our team is driven by our goal to help bring safety within reach for anyone—the price of protecting yourself or a loved one from injury shouldn’t be costly. With our sensors, we can help bring an increased sense of safety and security to any setting, whether it’s for one’s sport, profession, or hobby. We hope to help increase injury recognition and detection in all fields so that fewer people suffer from undiagnosed concussions and their debilitating symptoms of traumatic brain injuries.

What changes would you most like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?

The most impactful change I hope to see is eliminating the stigma of head injuries. Too many people worry that reporting a head injury will be seen as a sign of weakness. As a result, they risk exacerbating their injury and symptoms, rather than stopping activity and getting the help they need to recover properly. Unfortunately, this stigma can also encourage athletes to try and play through their injuries—[seeing the resulting harm caused by the injury] can lead parents [of young athletes] to pull their kids from football, thinking that is the only way to keep them safe.

No matter the setting or industry, it’s hard to let an invisible injury sideline you from the action, [but] we want to clear the stigma of concussions so that reporting a head injury [becomes] a prioritization of one’s own well-being, rather than an admission of defeat. Tozuda’s mission is to raise concussion awareness to correct this misconception and help all [individuals] protect their heads.

Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?

I am lucky enough to find inspiration and motivation in the people I interact with everyday. Our team is made up of innovative thinkers who come from many different backgrounds and areas of expertise, so we’re able to easily tackle our problems from a number of diverse perspectives. Additionally, I’m constantly motivated by the many members at NextFab, fellow Philadelphia-based entrepreneurs, and the engineers, makers, and amazing people I’ve met networking, at trade shows, or through other introductions.

Above all, I’m motivated by the sacrifices my family has made to get me to where I am today. I am so grateful for the support and encouragement I’ve received from my parents and my Abuelita Marusa; they are always pushing me to keep going. Without them, Tozuda would not be the company it is today. I want to be able to produce a sensor that proves that their sacrifices were worth it—that’s my motivation.

Can you provide a few updates on what’s new with your business or what you’ve accomplished since you attended the PE Intensive in April 2017?

Since attending the PE Intensive, we have undergone a major redesign of our product, making our sensors more efficient and reliable than before. Tozuda graduated from NextFab’s RAPID accelerator program, and we participated in the UBS and Village Capital Pathways program. Moreover, we have established our own manufacturing and assembly capabilities right from our facility in Philadelphia, so I’m really proud to be making everything in the U.S.

This past June we raised just under $31,000 during our Kickstarter campaign, and we will have over 3,000 active users this football season. We’re eager to raise concussion awareness and show this community of educated early-adopters what we do and why we do it.

Can you describe a problem you solved in your business that other early-stage entrepreneurs face and tell us how went about solving this problem? How can other early-stage founders repeat your success?

For hardware startups like ours, there can be really high manufacturing costs up front for development. Since the equipment was essential for our assembly, we struggled coming to terms with these sizable expenses. Luckily, we were able to get around this by reevaluating exactly what we needed and by purchasing used equipment, instead of the state of the art machines we initially thought were necessary.

While I know it’s easier said than done, my best advice for any startup [facing a tough challenge] is to keep moving forward. Starting a business is a long and complicated journey, [and] there are challenges every step of the way. You can’t let each obstacle discourage you, or you’ll never make it. Harness the passion that fueled your dream in the first place, and you’ll find your way through any obstacle.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out?

Talk to your customers and learn about their pain points; you can’t present your solution until you understand their problem.

For more motivation from our PE Alumnae, check out our interview with Jeannine Adams, Founder and CEO of Ready Pretty, a company that sends its customers a curated collection of links to purchase pre-styled outfits from online shopping destinations around the world. Jeannine attended the PE Intensive in 2017, and we had a chance to chat with her recently about how she’s been building Ready Pretty since attending the Intensive, the “aha moment” that led her to pivot her business model, and why she values the really uncomfortable moments.