Getting started: student’s guide to business

As most of us were working our way through junior year of high school, we concerned ourselves with scoring high on the SAT and educating ourselves about potential colleges to attend. In addition to these things, Timmy Oh ’17 had something else on his mind. The result of a small project, Oh conceptualized a firearm safety device that would change lives.

Currently a mechanical engineering/design, innovation and society sophomore, Oh has turned this concept into a business, BASE-Lock. In his freshman year, he submitted over five ideas to the Change the World Challenge and, of those, his gun lock idea was selected and he won $1,000. Advised by the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship, he pursued his idea, competing in the 2014 Rensselaer Business Model Competition. Of all the entrants, he placed third and appeared on an upward trajectory. Reality has a fun way of changing expectations, though. When Oh tested his idea with potential customers, no one seemed to take to it. It was at this time, he realized that he needed to make a change (or in business terms, pivot) and tinker with his idea more.

Over the course of the next year, Oh looked to his home state and reached out to the Los Angeles Police Department. With real market insight and materials tested under the guidance of the LAPD, he arrived at his current product, a smart technology device aimed at bringing firearm safety to the home through a one-step unlocking feature which allows a bullet to be chambered at all times. Thanks to this innovation, the device allows fast access to a ready firearm while being safe and secure. Working closely with the department, the device became recognized as an official project by the LAPD. In addition to this boost, Oh received a $10,000 grant from the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation as a Phase 1 innovator. From there, the Foundation invited him to the Nexus Summit in Washington, D.C. in December 2014. Returning to campus this January, he entered the 2015 Rensselaer Business Model Competition. This time, however, he won over the judging panel with his customer discovery and market validation, winning $8,000 and first place.

Through the RPIBMC, Oh learned the importance of customer feedback, emphasizing how keeping in touch with end users allows for more realistic and applicable designs. With reference to customer feedback, Oh said that a common misconception among new entrepreneurs is that their idea is good without testing the market; by going out and testing it, you find out if it’s actually good. Oh cited the Severino Center as the organization that presented this whole developmental process to him. The Center provided backing and support as well as showing the possibilities that he could take the idea to, said Oh, “The Severino [Center] definitely helped a lot.”

To future entrepreneurs, Oh stresses that the business growth process is not an individual effort. Despite him working on BASE-Lock alone, he made sure to note that numerous support systems had been of assistance along the way. In short, “expand your circle,” said Oh.

To find out more about the Severino Center and the Rensselaer Business Model Competition, visit: https://scte.rpi.edu.