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Hearing Tech Company Raises New Venture Funds

Smart Ear device and app

Smart Ear device and app (Olive Union)

5 Apr. 2021. A company creating devices that help people with hearing impairments, but without the stigma or cost of hearing aids, is raising $7 million in new venture funds. Olive Union, based in Tokyo, offers devices that amplify sounds for people with hearing loss, but are sold over-the-counter without a prescription, thus at a considerably lower cost than conventional hearing aids.

Olive Union is a five year-old enterprise seeking to address the growing global occurrence of hearing loss. Much of the spread in hearing loss is due an aging population, but the problem is exacerbated by long-term or repeated exposure to loud noises, in some cases self-inflicted. World Health Organization estimates 430 million people worldwide require assistance with disabling hearing loss, with that number expected to grow to 700 million by 2050.

In addition, says the organization, 1 billion young adults are at risk of permanent hearing loss, an avoidable condition, due to unsafe listening practices. “Collective exposure to prolonged and nearby loud noises has put us in the middle of an unprecedented decline in global hearing health,” says Owen Song, Olive Union’s founder and CEO in a company statement released through BusinessWire.

Song says he started Olive Union to fill the need for a simpler, yet more advanced technology to address varying degrees of hearing loss. Conventional hearing aids, says the company, are made for advanced-stage hearing loss and require a prescription, thus are often expensive for either the person needing the device or health insurance payer. As a result, many people with hearing loss are deterred from wearing a hearing aid because of the cost, but also the stigma of old age or disability.

Amplifier for mild to moderate hearing loss

As CrunchBase News notes as well, Olive Union benefits from a 2017 law in the U.S. allowing for over-the-counter products to address early-stage hearing loss. So far, however, the Food and Drug Administration has not written regulations for authorizing marketing of over-the-counter hearing aids in the U.S.

The company’s lead product is a personal sound amplifier called Smart Ear for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Smart Ear is worn and looks like an ear bud. The rechargeable device is controlled by a smartphone app that connects to the device via Bluetooth and can be set up in about five minutes. That same Bluetooth connection is used to channel voice telephone calls or music from the phone to the Smart Ear.

Olive Union is also developing a combination hearing aid and Bluetooth smartphone ear bud called Olive Pro that the company expects to ship in July. In two IndieGoGo campaigns this year, Olive Union raised some $2.7 million for the Olive Pro. In addition, the company plans to develop digital therapeutic devices for tinnitus and hearing health in general.

Olive Union is raising $7 million in its second venture funding round led by Beyond Next Ventures, Bonds Investment Groups, and Japan Policy Finance Corporation. According to CrunchBase, the company raised $10 million in its first venture round in Mar. 2019, and some $141,000 in seed funding in Jan. 2018.

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