At a time when firearms safety and access has become the topic of a serious national conversation, a gun safety startup begun by a Rensselaer student is attracting the attention of investors and media. Vara, founded by Timothy Oh, is an external gun retention system that allows safe and fast access through biometric sensor technology.

Oh, who majors in mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, was a winner in the fall 2013 Rensselaer Change the World Challenge competition and went on to win first prize in the Rensselaer business model competition in 2015. Since then, by taking advantage of the co-op program offered by Rensselaer’s Center for Career and Professional Development, he’s devoted his time and energy to launching the company (then called Dual:Lock), while still being a Rensselaer student.

“Rensselaer’s co-op program allows students to get hands-on work experience in their field of study by working full time while stepping away from their coursework for a semester and up to one year at a time,” said Dawn Cairns Weaver, associate director of the CCPD. “Students opt to work in industry or academe, do research, and even use their own businesses as their co-op experience. The co-op program has provided the flexibility for Timmy to devote his time to growing and developing his business while maintaining his full-time student status.”

In 2016, Oh won the New York Business Plan Competition (first out of 2,200 entrants), and the $100,000 grand prize. Since then, he said, “we have progressed from a small independent project to a fully operating company.”

The New York State Workforce Development Institute awarded Vara a $15,000 grant to purchase manufacturing equipment and tools. The company also won a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Gun Safety Matters Challenge (the challenge was to create an innovative product solution that addresses veteran suicide).

Now, the company has received a $50,000 Fuzehub manufacturing grant from the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund to purchase raw materials and prepare for production tooling.

“We are on track to launch our product this coming fall and have been really excited with all these new developments,” Oh said.

Vara recently received news that a full patent has been granted. “This is usually a three-to-five-year process, but ours got approved in just a few months with all initial claims approved without contest,” said Christine Tate, MBA ’95, Entrepreneur in Residence at the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship at Rensselaer and chief operating officer of Vara.

Oh was featured in Fast Company magazine in March, in an article titled “How Young Entrepreneurs Are Devising Tech Solutions To Gun Violence.”

“Our main product focus is bringing down that barrier of getting access to your gun, and doing that in a way that’s very intuitive, easy, and appealing to the gun owner, so it blends into their natural lifestyle,” Oh told Fast Company. “We want to bring the convenience of safety into homes, so that everyone will be using safe measures to protect their handguns.”

Oh also was recently featured on Spectrum News.

To learn more about Vara, visit their website at