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Gun owners in the United States currently have two primary storage options available: cable locks and gun safes. Most gun owners use cable locks, which are much more affordable than gun safes — but also much less secure.
“You can cut through [cable locks] with scissors or garden shears,” said Shaun Tanaka, a recent interdisciplinary studies and business administration graduate who is now pursuing his Master’s in public policy.
Meanwhile, gun safes are very secure, but also quite expensive. Gun safes can sometimes be even more expensive than actual guns, Tanaka said.
Tanaka, who has a military background, recognized a need for increased firearm safety — as well as an opportunity for innovation within the firearm safety space. Having worked extensively with firearms in the military, he decided to approach the issue from a mechanical standpoint.
Tanaka, equipped with an idea for an affordable and effective firearm safety device, utilized the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery to found Grip Safe.
The Hatchery is an on-campus program designed to help Cal Poly students develop their startup ideas. Through the Hatchery, Tanaka met Dylan DeFazio, who is a mechanical engineering junior and an engineer at Grip Safe.
“What initially appealed to me about Grip Safe was the fact that Shaun was in need of technical knowledge,” Defazio said. “At Grip Safe, I focus on the manufacturing and prototyping side of things, and I get to put my mechanical engineering degree to use.”
DeFazio joined Tanaka in building a firearm safety device which, once installed on a firearm, acts as a lockbox. If an unwanted user attempts to break off the device, they will likely break the gun itself, which Tanaka said is “part of the beauty of our design.”
The pair recently received a notice of allowance from the United States Patent and Trademark Office on their patent application.
Tanaka and DeFazio also brought Grip Safe to Innovation Quest (iQ), a prototyping and business plan competition hosted by the CIE in which Cal Poly students pitch their innovative ideas to a panel of judges for the chance to win thousands of dollars in funding. Grip Safe won the third place prize of $5,000.
“Innovation Quest allowed us to test our business idea, test our pitch, and honestly, we learned a lot about ourselves, as well,” DeFazio said. “That allowed us to hit the Summer Accelerator running.”
The Summer Accelerator is an intensive, 13-week program that provides Cal Poly students and recent graduates with the resources needed in order to turn their startup ideas into real, scalable businesses. Grip Safe was one of seven startups accepted into the program in 2022.
They are currently working on developing and iterating their prototype and collecting customer feedback. They hope to have a finished product by Demo Day on Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock, where the Summer Accelerator teams will showcase the progress they made throughout the summer and pitch their startups.
Tanaka founded Grip Safe with the intention of not only making firearm safety more affordable and accessible, but also with the intention of saving lives.
“I got into this space because I lost a childhood friend to an unsecured AR-15,” Tanaka said. “We’re working on a device that will save lives [which is why] we want to be the go-to solution for firearms safety in the United States.”