Saturday 26 May 2018

Idea for self-tuning hearing aid came to CEO (23) over Christmas dinner with grandfather

Paul and Caitriona Fotrell, The Ireland Funds
Paul and Caitriona Fotrell, The Ireland Funds
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Most people read a few more books or watch festive films over the Christmas holidays - this young Irish entrepreneur started a business.

Well, it was the concept at least that was conceived in December 2016 as Paul Allen (23) was eating the turkey dinner with all of his family.

"I remember trying to talk across the dinner table to my grandfather while other relatives were speaking and he couldn't hear I word I said. I asked him if his hearing aid was on and he couldn't even hear me say that," Allen told Independent.ie

"When the noise in the room quieted down a bit, we could have a conversation. He just thought I had been talking really low. He had spent €6000 on hearing aids that were not functionally properly."

Aurius was born when Allen and his co-founder, who were on the same entrepreneurial society at Trinity College, realised they had similar experiences.

"We had the revelation that hearing aids weren't good enough; we got talking about the problem and thought that there must be some amazing tech in the sector.

"But while the hardware across the board was good, the software let it down."

With Aurius, users are offered affordable, high quality hearing aids, according to Allen paired with an app that allows users to tune their device at home.

The new product aims to eliminate the need to visit an audiologist is common glitches occur, saving the user both time and money.

Its algorithm allows the user to self-tune through smartphone or web app whenever required using headphones. The hearing aid also has a rechargeable battery and it comes with wireless recharging pack.

"At the time of purchase, the shop tunes the pieces to your hearing and tells you to come back every month for a tune-up that costs around €50 a pop," said Allen.

"In theory it works but people aren't going in every three or four weeks. But the majority of people who are suing hearing aids are on pensions and don't have a huge amount of money, so they might leave the tune-up for longer. That leaves them having a horrible experience with their aids for weeks."

Allen and his co-founders Luc Bellintani, Dinnaga Padmaperuma managed to create two hearing aids, one pair which retail at €550 - a far cry from his grandfather's aid's €6,000 price tag. 

"By the time the hearing aid gets through the manufacturing and software process and to the audiologist, this vendor - who may only sell six to ten hearing aids a month - still needs to put an extra yield on the product to recoup office rents and utility costs," said Allen.

"We are cutting out the whole supply chain."

In just 9 months, Aurius has grown the firm to a team of six, with 500 locked-in orders and 4,000 on the waitlist for their product. ahead of their launch later this year.

Alllen maintains that the mentorship and funds they received from The Ireland Funds, winning €10,000 in its Business Plan Competition in 2017, set the company on the path to success.

"Our mentor sat us down, we were lucky it was a marketing expert, and told us we had a good product but we needed to think about our price points and research our market more.

"In the end, we believe we found the happy medium between cost and people's expectations of quality in relation to price."

Aurius officially plans on launching its over-the-ear product later this year but is currently waiting on final regulatory approval.

The team has already mapped out a five-year plan which includes product expansion and initiatives in the emerging markets.

The closing date for entrants for The Ireland Funds (partnered with the NDRC) Business Plan Competition 2018 is April 25.

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