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Dream Design Develop

Moxie Foundation Gift Creates Undergraduate Incubator

Irwin Zahn
Irwin Zahn (pictured) envisions a wide range of student ventures will emerge from the Moxie Center, including life-enhancing technologies, disease-reducing and poverty-eliminating efforts, cutting-edge applications rooted in computer science, and convenience products. Zahn and his family, through the Moxie Foundation, made the Moxie Center possible.

“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 Jacobs School – 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 Computer Science and Engineering, and one in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering – 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, Department of Computer Science and 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, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

microscopeJacobs School students are developing a cheaper, lighter, multi-function microscope to be used in developing countries. Their prototype will be flown to Mozambique to be field tested at a local clinic. It functions as a spectroscope as well as a brightfield and fluorescent microscope. Similar devices can cost up to $50,000. “We are aiming for under $500,” said UC San Diego physician scientist and project sponsor Dr. Eliah Aronoff-Spencer.

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.

Women in Computing @UCSD
“I like thinking about the kinds of problems that computers can solve,” said computer science undergraduate Elizabeth Chaddock, the new vice president of the undergraduate chapter of Women in Computing @UCSD. Chaddock is interested in artificial intelligence and data mining to analyze the content on social networks. As Jacobs School undergraduates learn to solve problems, the Moxie Center will prepare them to turn solutions into companies.

“It was a great idea. It didn't work the first time. It didn't work the 10th time. But it finally worked.”

In the blue jean craze of the 1960s, Irwin Zahn found an opportunity. 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.

Engineering World Health program at UC San Diego
Undergraduate students participating in the Engineering World Health program at UC San Diego are building kits designed to test electrosurgical units in resource-poor countries. The project gives students hands-on experience in engineering design and teamwork as well as the opportunity to see how engineering can be used for the benefit of society. It's one of many opportunities Engineering World Health students have to build and design medical equipment locally that will be used in the developing world.

“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. The Moxie Center will give Jacobs School undergraduates, like those featured below, 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.

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