Moxie Foundation gift creates undergraduate incubator
“Engineering is not just an exercise in thinking about something. You do it. That’s the critical thing. I would like to galvanize, motivate and encourage engineering students to take risks, develop products, and go into business for themselves,” said Irwin Zahn.
A new undergraduate incubator at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering — the Moxie Center — will do just this, thanks to Irwin Zahn and his family who made a gift to create the Moxie Center through their Moxie Foundation. Dreaming, designing and developing products — and ultimately bringing them to market — is near and dear to Zahn, who founded General Staple, an industrial stapling company, in 1954. Zahn grew the company into electrical/electronic connectors powerhouse AUTOSPLICE, which he sold in 2011.
The Moxie Center will include two student workspaces — one in the Computer Science and Engineering building, and one in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering building — designed for prototyping as well as meetings and brainstorming.
“As students see their peers taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the Moxie Center, our entrepreneurial culture will grow,” said Rajesh Gupta, professor and chair of the department of computer science and engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering.
A seasoned entrepreneur will serve as center director and provide business and engineering guidance. A new technical elective — Product Design and Entrepreneurship — and the Zahn Prize will engage students and incentivize entrepreneurship at the Jacobs School.
“Many Jacobs School students have the entrepreneurship gene, and the Moxie Center will give our undergraduates a powerful way to reach their potential,” said Sutanu Sarkar, professor and chair of the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering.
The Moxie Center complements the Jacobs School’s von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center, which provides faculty and graduate students access to entrepreneurism education, proof-of-concept grants and business mentoring programs. As an undergraduate incubator, the Moxie Center will help students develop some of the skills that have served Zahn so well. For example, after spending a year solving a problem for a small manufacturer in New Jersey — and losing money on the project in the process — Zahn leveraged that work to get his first contract with General Electric, which helped ensure his company’s place in the electrical/electronic connectors business.
“It was a great idea. It didn’t work the first time. It didn’t work the 10th time. But it finally worked,” said Zahn.
Opportunities are Everywhere, Including Blue Jeans
“Opportunities disguised as problems are everywhere. Take a chance and solve the problem,” said Zahn, who founded an engineering and business opportunity in the blue jean craze of the 1960s. Already supplying industrial stapling machines to watch and belt manufacturers, Zahn noticed that the stopper at the bottom of blue jean zippers was nothing more than a brass staple. He envisioned a machine that would create these “bottom stops” by cutting, forming and crimping continuous lengths of brass around the bottoms of zipper chains.
“It was a terrific idea, except I didn’t have any machining capability at that time. The company was maybe three people, so I started dealing with local machine shops in Brooklyn and the Bronx,” said Zahn. The result: a commercially successful machine that put a bottom stop on the zippers of blue jeans.
To help Jacobs School undergraduate students develop and commercialize their engineering ideas, the Moxie Center will provide access to state-of-the-art prototyping facilities along with engineering and business mentoring, entrepreneurship coursework, incentives and more. There is no telling where their ideas will lead.
Visit the Jacobs School of Engineering at www.jacobsschool.ucsd.edu.