Liz [00:00:08] Let’s take a look inside of the companies that make up an accelerator; these companies represent tomorrow’s economy and job creators for this particular cohort. They’re challenging the pace, please, and perimeters of health care. Today, I’m here with Jesse Garcia, and we’re going to talk about Tozuda, so we’ll just jump right into it. Jesse, you’re the CEO and founder. And tell me a little bit more about Tozuda.
What is Tozuda?
Jessie [00:00:34] Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me. Tozuda is a company that designs and manufactures safety products for sports and industrial applications. We use research and development to make solutions that are simple, accessible, and affordable for our end users. I founded this company in twenty fourteen. We’re based out of Philly, which I’m really proud of. And what we’re most known for is our head impact sensor for concussion awareness, which is this little device here that attaches to the back of any helmet and it turns bright red if a user gets hit too hard and needs to get you know evaluated for a concussion. I started this product in particular out of a personal need. I played rugby when I was at Lehigh University. My coach left me in a game after I had gotten hit, going in for a try, and I had post-concussive symptoms for six months afterward. So super frustrated with my injury. And when I went to go look to see if there was a product on the market that would have told me I was hurt to stop what I was doing, there was only this like two hundred dollar mouthguard and I had gone through like three or four mouthguard the season chewing through them or like losing them on the pitch. So I was like, you know, there has to be a simple there has to be a more simple way or affordable way to do this. So just the frustration in that one injury in particular kind of led me down this path to start to Tozuda.
Liz [00:02:30] I didn’t I guess maybe because I’m not too big of an athlete, I didn’t realize how long I mean, I know concussions can last long term like they have long-term effects, but I didn’t realize how long term.
Jessie [00:02:47] Yeah, well, I’ve had multiple concussions playing sports throughout my life, but this one was definitely the worst because I didn’t like no one recognized that I was hurt. So like on average, a concussion should take maybe like a week to two weeks to recover from. If you actually know that it happened. But because I kept playing, I got hit again, probably multiple times. You know, I just it extended the symptoms that much longer. So I couldn’t read light and sound bothered me. It was really tough.
Liz [00:03:26] Yeah, it sounds really significant and I mean, it makes sense because if it’s one of those things where it’s invisible and you can just get by with continuing to play a game, not knowing you’re injured, and that’s really serious. I mean and I know I know that when we first learned about Tozuda, we had a lot of questions about how you measure things and everything. I mean, you all put in a lot of work as far as research goes and getting this together. And we’ll talk a little bit more about that, too. But let’s jump right into when you apply to Launch lane in the fall.
What were you hoping to get out of the accelerator for Tozuda?
Jessie [00:04:06] Yeah, so like you, you just kind of mention we had spent over six years into understanding correlation to force. This is a whole new mechanical way of detecting for those like so much R&D into the product itself. And by twenty nineteen, we had, you know, users, some initial sales, things like that. So we felt like we were just at the starting blocks. We have a great team of engineers and we’re like what we need business development help. And when I found Launchlane actually someone sent me like, you know, should it be over, tweet about it. And I was like, oh, I got to apply because I love the idea of the commercialization, like commercialization of the actual tech, because I’m like our product, and our tech is only good if it’s in people’s hands. And I really wanted to go in with sales and marketing focus because we’re all engineers and that’s where we tend to put our time and effort. But it’s been great so far just to have to actually be thinking more business development-wise in the program.
Jessie’s experience when switching to a virtual accelerator
Liz [00:05:27] Yeah, what are your thoughts on the impact of switching to virtual for the accelerator just in general? I mean, it’s really been interesting from our end as being leaders of the accelerator program, but then to know that that you’ll have to go through it on the other end. I’m just really curious to know how is it how’s it felt to have that change?
Jessie [00:05:57] I think it’s I’m really happy we made the change because I was worried that, you know, was in person, then it would just stop and we were really looking forward for it to actually continue. But I think it’s been a great adjustment. I think I’ve been taking the time to try to connect with the other founders like one on one and just, you know, help out wherever we can and vice versa. So it’s just nice to have a support system right now because we all are in isolation in our own ways. And obviously, it’s been a big struggle just in general with covid. But I look forward to like Thursdays, you know, because I’m like, oh, this is like my hope group like this. You know, they’re going to give good feedback. And I’m just happy I have that support system now more than ever because I didn’t really have that before, at least from like other, you know, other founders very periodically and methodically.
Liz [00:07:03] Yeah, and I think that I mean, for me, I feel the same way when I get to hop on the calls, and in addition to what’s happening with launch lane, I mean, the fact that the University Science Center also has venture cafes going virtually has been really, really great for me personally. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t continue to have at least some kind of social interaction. And for me, venture capital, and that’s those have been, you know, the biggest part of my social interactions while I’m stuck here at home. But, you know, it’s cool that we get to take this time to talk about these things, because I think that people need to know that they’re not the only people. They’re not the only ones being impacted by this. How since the pandemic, have your priorities shifted for Tozuda?
Adapting your startup to the pandemic
Jessie [00:07:58] Yeah. So they’ve shifted a lot pre-pandemic. We were doing our first IRB-approved study. We were doing an impact study with women’s roller derby. So we had team members going to every practice, every scrimmage, every game. So very heavy into that. And that all had to come to a pause and postponement, really a postponement until they start again. And then it was kind of this like digestion of that, hey, this affects all sports, not just our study, too. So I think from a strategy perspective. I’m trying to be less reactive and more strategic during this time, and I’m really trying to figure out our timing to market, which is hard to predict because we don’t know when things are getting rolled out again. But just how can we be best prepared to actually do our sales and marketing initiatives? Because right before this happened, it was like February 20, 20 that we launch lane our online website. And we’re like, all right, we’re going to start. You know, roll out this whole marketing plan and we’re like, all right, let’s just figure out when to do this. And it’s actually good that launch lane started because now it’s like tweak our message a ton to even make it even better than it was before. So, you know, taking it in stride that way.
Liz [00:09:32] Yeah, I think that’s a good way to take it in stride. It’s weird because I go from being really, like, trying to be super positive to, like, getting real grim about it and being like, oh, my gosh, like, this is real. Have you had your when I guess, how long did it take for you to realize like when did you realize that this was going to have an impact on your business? [8.2s] Do you remember the moment?
Realizing COVID impact in your startup
Jessie [00:10:01] It was definitely like at first it was like old denial, you know, at first, like the first week it was all denial. And then like the second week I was talking to Erica, who’s in charge of, like, roller derby. And I was like, you know, like, I need to pick up all this equipment because. Well, it’s a lot of equipment and it’s expensive, so I was just like, all right, I got to go actually go get this because I don’t know how long we’re going to be like without going to like the roller, Don, whereas where they practice. So that’s when it became a reality. And then I was just like, oh, man. Like, if we’re not doing this, we’re not getting revenue in.
Jessie [00:10:43] Like, how am I supposed to keep my team, you know? So that was probably the hardest slap in the face was like realizing it affects my team and more than just me, obviously. And that’s when I was like, all right, we have to figure out how to survive. Not like we’re getting to the point where, like. And I won’t say thriving, but, you know, like we we’re stable and now it’s back to survival mode and how do we just get past this covid situation?
Liz [00:11:18] Yeah, and I think that that’s when I mean, that’s when having a support system matters the most, right. With this is smacked us all in the face and we’re know even us as advisers to the cohort. You know, we’re going through our own strides with our businesses as well.
Liz [00:11:39] And I think that that’s the hardest thing is like setting aside what’s going on with you and being able to think about the people you’re working with. Right. For me, it’s my clients. For you, it’s your team. And it’s just it’s a lot of extra pressure that feels very unnecessary, you know.
Liz [00:11:59] Come on, mother, like.
Jessie [00:12:04] It’s totally so much pressure because it’s like like I said, there was so much buildup to even getting to like February of 2020 and we’re like, you know, like I said, I felt just like stable starting. And now it’s like this could all like, stop if you don’t figure out how to get through it, you know, and a lot of it’s distracting because, you know, you want to focus. On strategy and marketing, but then it’s like apply to all these grants and apply to all these different programs, and that’s a district that’s work within itself. It’s a lot of work. And it’s also kind of a distraction from, what, your day-to-day? Is what she for us was you know making products and stuff, so I think I’m a little bit past that because I’ve applied to as many things as possible and now we’re just it’s a waiting game to hear back.
Jessie [00:13:06] But, yeah, it’s been tough for sure.
Liz [00:13:11] Yeah, I think I mean, you know, how many grants do you think you’ve applied to so far this year?
Jessie [00:13:19] Yeah, I want a little. Well, I really I’m really thinking about my team because more than anything, like, I’ve had to cut back on their hours, which and they’re just so supportive and understanding and like they made that so much easier from my perspective, because it was definitely like upsetting. But I’ve applied to probably like.
Jessie [00:13:46] I know like 10 grants that I’ve applied like that we qualify for. I’ve gotten two of them, which is great. I applied for the Idol PPP and now we’re thinking a little bit more long-term, maybe going after NSF grants because we’re like, oh, well, we have some time to, like, apply as well.
Jessie [00:14:10] So might as well just like do another application, but they could all help.
Jessie [00:14:16] And I’m really hoping the PPP comes through. But that one’s been a beast too, to get.
Liz [00:14:26] Yeah, it’s been crazy because I’ve had some people that I’m working with that are not applying to any grants because they just don’t understand how to get started with it. And they don’t think that they’d be eligible because they’re a startup. But I think that what people need to realize is there are a lot of people who understand that there are startups out there that will die without grant funding available. So every day I’ve seen some kind of grant open up. And I hope that more people learn from what you just said and what I’m saying right now that is totally worth looking into applying for grants as a startup because there are definitely people out there. And it makes me think about, you know, the future of fundraising. I know right now there’s been a lot of talk about investors holding back and that it could be a while before investors open their pockets back up for startups. Have you thought about that at all? I am pretty sure you probably have. Yeah, definitely.
Jessie [00:15:34] Well, before this, I guess right before covid hit, I was that was my main focus was like fundraising. I was supposed to go to South by Southwest. I had like five-pitch things I was supposed to do. All of them got canceled. And then just like reaching back out to those same people haven’t really gone too far.
Jessie [00:15:59] But I think I’m just being a little bit more creative in trying to, like, contact people and try to continue the conversation. Yeah, but it’s a little disheartening. It’s more that instead of thinking about meeting fundraising to scale our company or grow our company, I’m trying to think of, like, how can I just bring in revenue now? You know, how do you like things? Like how do we just make money? So like, I’m looking at our skill sets. Right. So we conduct a lot of R&D, like what type of services can we offer, which I know it’s again, kind of like a startup mentality, but I’m like, all right, if no one’s going to open up. Checkbook’s temporarily like we could keep applying and keep, like, trying to pitch, and I’m going to keep doing that, but if that’s not going to happen, then how can I bring in, you know. Even like a couple of grand a month, just to keep, you know, keep it going, keep going, might be yeah, might be slow, but I’d rather go slow and stay alive than, you know, try to just. You know, then Tozuda goes nowhere.
Liz [00:17:19] Yeah, I think you have the right mindset. I will say, though, I don’t think it’s against what startups do.
Liz [00:17:25] I think that that’s the problem is that people get so hooked on what they’re doing that they forget the very nature of being an entrepreneur is being ready to pivot when needed.
Liz [00:17:37] And this is a perfect test to see who is a true entrepreneur because right now there are still opportunities out there. You know, we’re working through every day one step at a time. And you mentioned South by Southwest. So many of us, we’re ready to get up and go and are super upset with that got canceled. It was like, this isn’t a big deal. Now, look, everything’s closed. The world is closed, not just south by southwest. It’s OK. It’s OK. So we ought to just I don’t want to say get over it because we’re still in the middle of it. But I do think that, you know, focusing on how to generate revenue and what pivots you can make, I think that’s important. And your team is everything. I always have said I would be nowhere without the team that I had. And, you know, I think that you have the right the total correct mindset about this. And, you know, what do you think has been. The hardest thing about working virtually.
The hardest challenges when working remotely
Jessie [00:18:48] For you, it is, yeah, the hardest thing about working virtually is. I don’t a lot of like our. Things that we things that we’ve done previously, we’re all like, you know, let’s build this prototype, let’s work on this assembly fixture, like let’s fabricate these things to make our process easier. So it’s more just realizing, like, hey. We don’t like there are other ways to optimize and there are other things we could focus on for Tozuda, so for a team of engineers not to be able to play with our toys or tools was a tough adjustment for everyone. But it’s been good because it’s made us like. Focus on our other skill and skillsets, like data analysis, things like that, and I definitely want to point out something that’s been really helpful during covid virtual stuff is just like I’ve been reaching out to a ton of people I’ve developed relationships with, like overtime, whether it’s networking or and I’m just saying like, hey, this is what my team is good at. Like we’re really great at data analysis. Like, do you need any help with that right now? Like we’re you know, and I’ve, you know, lately, like I’ve had a couple of opportunities pop up just from, you know, keeping in contact with people and saying, hey, look, like we’ve built this great head impact sensor and yes, we are. We will sell this. And this will be on players when sports come back. But in the meantime, like, we have some great skills that we could help you out with right now. So that’s seeming to come I don’t wanna say it’s to fruition. But like, it’s coming through. So just create a ways.
Liz [00:20:47] Yeah, learning how to be more creative is super important, and I think that if I hadn’t gone through so many crazy things in the past, like so many failures, and had to get creative with those, I would not be where I am. I think that what you’re demonstrating here is the ability to get through this. And, you know, it sounds like you’re doing everything you can to put yourself and your team in the right place.
Liz [00:21:16] I’m really excited that you’re a part of Launch lane because also I think your products really, really cool. And, you know, I’m excited to be able to tell more people about it. What are you when this is all over?
Liz [00:21:37] Whenever that happens, I don’t know the answer.
Liz [00:21:42] What are you most looking forward to when it’s safe for us to emerge from our homes?
Jessie [00:21:49] Yeah.
Jessie [00:21:52] I am I’m dreaming of the day that I could go out and get like Korean barbecue again, which I know it sounds like super, super basic, but I love going out to eat. You know how great hobby. But yeah, like, I miss restaurants. We miss going out. I can’t wait to catch a game in person. I love sports. I want to tailgate like I miss, like the camaraderie of a crowd which will be interesting post-pandemic. Another thing I’m looking forward to, I definitely like connecting with my family. I was actually supposed to get married in a month. Oh wow.
Liz [00:22:35] So yeah, just a few months back. But just throw that in here at the end, all right. Yeah.
Jessie [00:22:41] Yeah. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to getting married eventually. But, you know, like little things like that, that would be great.
Liz [00:22:52] I wish you luck with that. That sounds that just like changed my whole perspective of the amount of stuff you must be going through right now.
[00:23:02] And. Yeah. Wow.
Jessie [00:23:07] A lot it was it’s a lot, but, you know, like for me, it was obviously like a wedding on top of startup stuff, but everyone has their own thing. But again, it just actually I feel like that day in launch lane and I definitely, like, teared up. I got the call while I was on launch lane. But again, it just goes for the fact, like, we’re all in it together. We’re like the poor and were there for me. So I don’t know. I just feel like no matter how hard it gets, like we’re going to get through it, so. It’s a good reminder
Liz [00:23:43] we’re all going to get through it and what would you say, your superpower is?
Jessie [00:23:50] Oh, I would say I’m a survivor for sure. That’s my superpowers being resilient and I think. You know, I’ve come to learn that we can’t you know, we can’t control everything around us, right. And sometimes there’s no good reason as to why things happen. And like this timing of covid like there’s no good reason why this is happening right now. But your outlook and your perspective, if you could change that, then I think you could survive anything. And I think that’s what I’m just trying to, like, remind myself and use that as my superpower is my outlook on what’s going on.
Liz [00:24:38] That’s so, such a beautiful way to wrap this up. I love that I think that’s being a survivor is the best, right? You can’t really be a successful entrepreneur if you’re not also a survivor in some kind of way. You got to be resilient and we’re all going to persevere through this together. So, you know, that was lovely. I know that’s going to stick with me. I’m going to sound like that. [00:25:09]How can people learn about Tozuda? How can people get in touch with you if they want to partner or anything like that?
Learn more about Tozuda
Jessie [00:25:16] Yeah, absolutely. You could visit us at Tozuda.com, which is T O Z U D A. You can follow us on Instagram or Twitter at Tozuda LLC. If you want to get to me, it’s Jesse Garcia to Tozuda. But yeah, lots of lots of ways to reach out. I would love to, you know, talk to anyone and everyone. So please feel free to hang me up.
Liz [00:25:46] Careful with that one.
Liz [00:25:47] Would you like anyone?
Liz [00:25:50] And everyone will look at what kind of things are you looking for? For potential partners and also, you know, anything else that you’re looking for right now that any like someone watching this might be able to or listening to this might be able to help you with.
Jessie [00:26:12] Yeah, absolutely, you know, we are still actively raising money, so happy to send over a deck to anyone interested in learning more about how we could give you a nice Arawa or, you know, just in terms of partnerships, if you are attached to any school districts or leagues, our product can definitely help your athletes or kids when they’re back on the field. Yeah, feel free. Feel free to reach out for or anything like that.
Liz [00:26:48] All right, awesome, and I’d like to try it out on a bicycle helmet because that’s what I the closest I get to wearing any kind of hell.
Liz [00:26:58] Talk about that some time, too.
Jessie [00:27:01] Yeah, I was just going to say, that’s definitely like a marketing strategy. We’re not just considering we’re just like, you know, recreational sports are still happening right now. So I think that’s where a lot of our efforts are going to go at first, not just TV ads anymore.
Liz [00:27:20] Yeah, yeah. I’ve been hit by a car before my bike, so I totally oh my gosh I, I definitely think that I mean, that was one of the reasons I was so excited about the work you’re doing. I don’t play a lot of physical sports for other people, but I used to be very into aggressive sports like inline skating and skateboarding and BMX and tricky on my bicycle. And when I was younger, I more than Ultranet now, but I still do cycle. And I had it. I did not cycle for my first couple of years living in Philly because I was horrified of getting hit by a car. So I think that, you know, I hope that people reach out to you to ask more about that, too, just because I like to see you go that route as well. But I’m psyched about the work you’re doing.
Liz [00:28:09] I think your energy is great.
Liz [00:28:11] What you’re doing is really, really important and can help a lot of people that might be impacted by these things called concussions. I don’t know why that took so long for me to get that work.
Liz [00:28:26] But thanks so much for talking to me today, Jessie. And yeah, no, thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you.