Tech start-up of the week: Restored Hearing

27 Oct 2014

Eimear O'Carroll, CTO, and Rhona Togher, CEO, Restored Hearing

Our tech start-up of the week is Restored Hearing, which is on a mission to protect hearing, alleviate tinnitus, and rid the world of unavoidable hearing loss.

The company has two core products: Sound Relief tinnitus sound therapy and Sound Bounce hearing protection.

Restored Hearing’s Sound Relief tinnitus sound therapy has been clinically proven to reduce ringing in the ears by 15pc in a month when used five minutes daily. This provides relief to those who never get to experience silence.

The company’s Sound Bounce hearing protection product responds proportionally to the noise environment – allowing communication and protection.

“Using patented materials science technology, Sound Bounce provides the function of electronic headsets at a fraction of the price,” explains CEO and co-founder Rhona Togher.

The market

Restored Hearing is targeting the 300m-plus tinnitus sufferers worldwide, specifically those in the US where organisations such as the American Tinnitus Association and veterans associations raise awareness and spend money in the area.

“Our target customers are over 40 and are web literate,” says Togher.

“Our hearing protection has an industrial focus – particularly in the aviation, construction, oil and gas, and military industries in countries where value is placed on health and safety.

“Geographically, we primarily target the US, UK and Irish markets.”

The founders

Rhona Togher and Eimear O’Carroll, founders of Restored Hearing

Toghe studied physics at University College Dublin. She runs the logistics, manufacturing and day-to-day operations of Restored Hearing. She has previous experience in scientific research, community work and programming.

Eimear O’Carroll, co-founder and CTO, studied for a master’s in physics at Edinburgh University. She runs sales and distribution and commercial partnerships and has previous experience in event management, sales and scientific research.

“While in our final school years both of us suffered from tinnitus, Eimear from playing the drums and I from attending too many concerts,” Togher explains.

“We both had a keen interest in physics and how sound affects your hearing so we began to look into the subject of tinnitus further. This research spanned two years and during it we discovered a method of altering the damage done by loud noise and music in the inner ear.

“It was a problem close to our hearts and as the first test subjects we were proof that it worked and that it needed to be shared with the others affected by tinnitus.

“We subsequently went on to test the therapy, came runners up in the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition and launched, all while doing the Leaving Cert in 2009.

“Five years on and lots of things have changed. We’ve moved into the field of permanent tinnitus, completed clinical trials, hired a team and developed all new products but that same passion for solving problems with hearing remains.”

The technology

By using a patented material, Sound Bounce gives the proportional response to the environment that electronics can give but at a fraction of the cost, O’Carroll explains.

“It’s also a more durable product resulting in applications, for example, in the construction industry.

“The material is a mud-like substance and absorbs sound relative to the amplitude of sound in the environment. The louder the noise the more protection provided. It’s a retrofit product for existing headsets.

Sound Relief is a tinnitus sound therapy that is clinically proven to reduce impact of tinnitus by 15pc in one month.

“It’s scientifically proven, less expensive and less of a time commitment than alternative treatments,” O’Carroll says.

“It works by using sound to provoke a particular response in the inner ear. This response is in the part of the ear most affected by loud noise damage. Along with the physical stimulation, by using the therapy on a daily basis the brain readjusts the volume of tinnitus that it is used to hearing/perceiving.”

Music to tinnitus sufferers’ ears

“We want to enable people to avoid hearing loss and damage from noise using our products,” Togher says.

“We want people to be reliably informed about the dangers of loud noise and be able to take action accordingly. We want to be the thought leader in the hearing space, positively influencing both individuals and the industry at large.

“Business is going well. We’ve just relaunched to include details of our recently completed clinical trial. We’re in talks with retailers in the UK to launch a physical version of Sound Relief tinnitus sound therapy in the coming months.

“We’re not currently raising. Our main focus is on acquiring new customers, delighting our current customers and bringing new products to market.”

Trial and error

Togher says there have been many challenges along the way for Restored Hearing and many yet to come.

“When we initially developed Sound Relief we thought the target market would be temporary tinnitus sufferers who have ringing in their ears after clubbing and concerts.

“However, all our customers had chronic tinnitus so we went back to development and research eventually leading to our clinical trial which was completed in the spring of 2014. It was a tough lesson to learn but we’ve increased our focus on delivering exactly what our customers want and ultimately that’s benefited all concerned.”

O’Carroll says that the prospect of moving into hardware and seeking manufacturers in China was also daunting.

“We talked to a lot of people who had been through the process before and our mentor from Enterprise Ireland has been invaluable.

“Building relationships with manufacturers is one of the most important parts of getting hardware made so Rhona spent two months in China this summer meeting factories, testing samples and forming strategic partnerships with our manufacturers. We’re really excited about bringing our new products to market over the coming months – watch this space!”

High hopes

Togher said that while the tech start-up scene in Ireland is a little bit like Florence during the Renaissance, the only problem is the scene is very Dublin-centric at present and that needs to change.

“The Irish start-up scene is a great community to be a part of. We’ve found that everyone is really keen to help and support each other within the ecosystem. There’s a massive amount of knowledge contained in the Irish start-up scene so we think it’s really important to share that so the same mistakes are not made twice.

“In our experience the scene has been very Dublin-focused but we’d hold high hopes for that to change, for example through the great programmes in universities and ITs around the country,” says Togher.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years