Meet the hardware startup trying to save athletes’ heads

Thursday, January 18, 2018
Jessie Garcia, TE'13G, “If it's red, check your head.”
Award Winning Lehigh University Masters of Technical Entrepreneurship Program

Tozuda's team at its South Philly offices.

 

Jessie Garcia, a first-generation American with Cuban roots, thought of a nickname her grandfather called her when trying to name her startup.

 

It made sense, because “tozuda” (hard-headed, stubborn in Spanish) accurately describes athletes who just want to get back in the field after taking a hit in the head.

 

“I was an athlete my whole life,” García, 24, said. “I understand that feeling of wanting to play even when you can’t.”

 

Tozuda is also the name of the head impact sensor made by the startup, an 1.5-inch-by-1-inch cylinder-shaped addition to the back of regular athletics helmets that lights up red when an impact is hard enough to cause a concussion. The idea is, if the sensor lights up, players must leave the action and go get checked.

 

It seemed counterintuitive at first to have the sensor be in the back of the helmet, where players couldn’t see. This is intentional, García said. This way, coaches, referees or other players can keep an eye out for the light signal.

 

“Athletes want to hide their injuries, a lot of people want to be the strong player that’s says, ‘Screw the injuries,'” the founder said. “And while something like a fracture is visible, a concussion can be concealed. We’re trying to bring visibility to an invisible injury.”

 

The Tozuda sensor in the back of a helmet from the Bergen Catholic High School Crusaders. (Courtesy photo)

 

This is the “go-to-market” year for the company, which which has its roots in García’s work at Lehigh University’s Technical Entrepreneurship Program. Back then, the sensor was in a mouthguard but players themselves suggested a helmet placement would make more sense.

 

The product, in its current helmet version, will retail for about $30 and was tested by some 300 football players last fall. Look out for a Kickstarter campaign from Tozuda in the Spring.

 

Tozuda is a team of three full-timers based out of NextFab’s South Philly location. Though largely self-funded, the company received $10,000 in grant money from Ben Franklin Technology Partners last year.

 

Sports is the first applications of the sensor, but the company is also working to develop versions for construction workers and the military.