Alumnus, students help create product for concussion awareness

Three students and a 1977 alumnus helped develop a sensor to detect head trauma.

Jessie Garcia, the founder of Tozuda, holds a container filled with concussion sensors at the creative manufacturing space NextFab on Washington Avenue near 20th Street on Aug. 29. | HANNAH BURNS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Jessie Garcia endured multiple concussions in her life from playing sports. Like many others, she assumed the injury was only serious if she lost consciousness.

But Garcia later discovered the only head injury she stayed fully conscious for was actually her worst. She suffered post-concussion symptoms for months.   

Garcia went on to create Tozuda, a Philadelphia-based company designing sensors that detect potential head injuries. The sensor, which is a small plastic chamber filled with clear liquid, is attached to helmets or other headgear and changes color from clear to bright red when wearers hit their heads hard enough to get a concussion.

The liquid’s color-change signals the player’s need to seek medical evaluation before they can continue activity.

“If it’s red, check your head,” Tozuda’s slogan reads.  

The idea behind the company’s name stemmed from Garcia’s childhood, when her grandmother would refer to Garcia’s headstrong personality in Spanish as “tozuda,” meaning “hardheaded.”

In June, the company raised more than $30,000 on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to help with manufacturing costs. Now, after years of tweaking the design and Garcia investing her personal savings, the product is on the market.

“[The inspiration] came from not being able to afford the [sensors] that were out there,” Garcia said.

When designing, she wanted Tozuda’s sensor to be effective at detecting potential injuries without breaking the bank. A Tozuda sensor costs $29.99 plus shipping.

Garcia wanted to ensure that families, coaches and players could identify a potential concussion quickly and easily. Tozuda sensors don’t need batteries, electronics or Wi-Fi, like other types of detectors.

This allows Tozuda to keep the price low for the buyers, who are typically coaches and sports team dealers who present and sell different products to sports teams.

“[The team dealers] already have the relationships, all we need to do is get them on board with our product,” said John Pettit, a 1976 electrical engineering alumnus and business development manager for Tozuda.

Pettit said he hopes Tozuda will make it more likely for users to get proper medical care, ultimately improving outcomes for people with concussions.

He added the number of people putting their kids in football and ice hockey is lessening, and he hopes Tozuda is able to give parents and coaches a peace of mind so kids can still play those sports.

“Coaches make you the person you become, and I’ve seen tremendous value in that and I want everyone to be able to have that experience,” Pettit said.

Bringing Tozuda to fruition and getting people on board was no easy feat. The company went through multiple design changes, impact tests and material adjustments before the product could be sold, Pettit said. Tozuda also had to focus on educating people about concussion awareness.

“There’s a balance of trying to inform,” said Katie Burger, digital content and social media manager at Tozuda. “We’re also coming from a place of concern.”

Temple students Quan Nguyen, Anh Quoc Tran and Abdulrahman Alsulaiman worked at Tozuda as marketing interns this summer.

Alsulaiman, a senior entrepreneurship and innovation management major, said he felt like part of a family at Tozuda and he supports the company’s mission and the work they do for the Philadelphia community.

“I was very interested in [the job] from the first moment,” Alsulaiman wrote in an email to The Temple News.

Through Tozuda’s Kickstarter campaign, the company was able to reach football teams, oil rig workers, a bobsledding team and equestrian teams.

Garcia said she hopes Tozuda will spread concussion awareness, and for the sensors to be integrated into sports culture worldwide. Long term, she’d like to create more Tozuda products and job opportunities in Philadelphia.

“Seeing sensors on users is all we can hope for,” Garcia said. “As a little kid I was always trying to do things I shouldn’t have been doing…and I completely embraced that. I want athletes as well to be hardheaded and care about their brain and their academics.”

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