Ear surgeon Rodney Perkins has an impressive track record building companies around what he calls “medtech to mainstream.” In the past few decades, he founded 12 health and life sciences companies, three of which have gone public. In total, his firms are worth several billion dollars. His latest enterprise, the Soundhawk Smart Listening System, raised $11.2 million in funding.
Users of Soundhawk’s Scoop earpiece can customize settings for various situations—outdoors, dining, driving—using a free iOS or Android app. The Smart Listening System—including device, wireless microphone and charging case—retails for $299 through soundhawk.com and Amazon, and is available in two color schemes.
Mike Kisch, president and CEO of Cupertino, Calif.-based Soundhawk, says the company works with advanced wireless and wearable technology that helps consumers in subtle, everyday ways.
“If you believe you’re serving a higher purpose—that people will benefit from your work or product—that allows you to make it through the bad times that come with a startup,” says Kisch, formerly of Cisco. “If you’re investing multiple years of your life, the goal has to be bigger than bringing a product to market.”
The target Soundhawk customer doesn’t have severe hearing loss but rather a situational need—the inability to hear during a lecture or in a noisy restaurant, or difficulty listening to the radio or TV at a socially acceptable volume. To address those needs, the Soundhawk team developed a product meant for occasional use that would feel like a reasonable impulse purchase. Regarding customers with even minimal hearing loss, Kisch explains, “you want to motivate people to be able to do something about it very quickly.”
Soundhawk closed a $5.5 million Series A round in June 2014 led by True Ventures and Foxconn Technology Group.
“Dr. Perkins saw the opportunity to create an entirely new market around hearing augmentation via an elegantly designed wearable device that’s powered by the user and financially accessible,” says Puneet Agarwal, a partner at True Ventures. “At True, we believe that entrepreneurship is a powerful force for global good. Soundhawk’s mission aligns closely with that belief, potentially impacting the hundreds of millions of people experiencing hearing loss globally who do not qualify for existing solutions.”
Soundhawk, which started shipping its product in late 2014, would not reveal sales figures, but the company could potentially tap into a U.S. market of 98 million people with hearing problems, only a fraction of whom are diagnosed and can afford traditional hearing aids.