San Diego

A man of tremendous energy, dynamism and creative ideas, Irwin Zahn is a role model for modern philanthropists.

Mr. Zahn’s entrepreneurial journey began with the creation of General Staple Company in 1954 and the development of a new method to produce zippers for the denim jean market. In 1990, he moved the company to San Diego, renamed it Autosplice and began to enlarge its scope. His ingenuity resulted in 20 patents that provided the innovational foundation for further business endeavors. By the time he sold Autosplice in 2011, it was a global electronic interconnect leader.

Not content to retire, Mr. Zahn created the Moxie Foundation, dedicated to enriching individuals and communities by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success. His passion for empowering innovators found a natural home at San Diego State University. Here, his generous gift created the Zahn Innovation Center, an incubator and entrepreneurial community where students, faculty and staff receive the training and resources to realize their ambitions. Multidisciplinary teams create business plans and prototypes, find industry mentors, and secure the funding necessary to launch sustainable enterprises. The Zahn Innovation Center currently houses 50 teams with 150 active participants. One of every 10 teams has launched a business, and nearly half of these ventures have a social focus.

A second gift to SDSU from the Moxie Foundation renamed the center as the Zahn Innovation Platform, or ZIP, and expanded its scope. The ZIP will inspire students, staff, and faculty to find successful solutions to design challenges through ideation and experimentation. Not only will they continue to establish businesses; they will also bring creative thinking to bear on the larger challenges of our communities and our world. To lead SDSU’s entrepreneurial charge, the Moxie gift created the Zahn Professorship of Creativity and Innovation, a rotating, two-year faculty appointment. 

Mr. Zahn’s generosity extends beyond this university. The Moxie Foundation supports numerous educational and nonprofit institutions including City College of New York’s entrepreneurship center; Ashoka U, fostering social innovation in higher education across the United States; the Women Empowerment Initiative of Project Concern International, educating women in 12 countries about saving, lending, leadership and entrepreneurship; and the Salk Institute of Biological Studies, a leader in stem cell research.

In recognition of Irwin Zahn’s business acumen, innovative spirit and generous heart, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and San Diego State University are proud to confer upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.