“Everyone has the right to hear the world around them.”
Hossein Jelveh, Founder & CTO at Audientes
After 15 years of working at Nokia, Hossein Jelveh decided to start his own company. While the entrepreneurial track is not an unusual path for IT professionals in Denmark, Hossein had a more ambitious endeavor in mind than most. He wanted to use his engineering background and his experience at Nokia to develop an affordable hearing aid that would enable people living in economically challenged areas to do something that we often take for granted: hear the world around them.
Who will take responsibility?
“I grew up in Iran, and I would often see men in their sixties or seventies, surrounded by people, yet completely cut off from the world around them,” Hossein explains. “They had lived a hard life, always struggling to make ends meet and to provide for their families, only to spend the final years of their lives in complete isolation, because they couldn’t hear.” Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the plight of these men was their acceptance of their situation. “They believed that there wasn’t anything that could be done. And so, I asked myself, ‘Who will take responsibility for them?’”
What Hossein experienced growing up in Iran is unfortunately not a unique phenomenon. In many of the world’s most populous nations, access to healthcare, particularly when it comes to hearing clinics and audiologists, is a luxury many cannot afford. “If you look at a country like the Philippines, there is one audiologist for every one million people. That’s an impossible task. Countries like the one I grew up in don’t have healthcare systems like those in Scandinavia. Even setting politics aside, and assuming that the money and desire to provide these services are there, they simply lack access to the services they need.”
The need for a new approach
According to Hossein, part of the problem lies in the current model for accessing hearing services. “The hearing clinic model is built around Western society. It can’t be transferred to other parts of the world, as they lack the necessary infrastructure to scale it to the level required to provide services to those who need it,” he explains. “We need a new model, built on technology and innovation, to reach these people.”
To address this problem, Hossein founded Audientes in 2014, with the goal of putting his background and experience to work to bridge the gap between the Western hearing clinic model and the needs of developing countries. “Our mission is that no matter where you live, if you have hearing loss, you should have access to a hearing aid. There are over half a billion people around the world who need a solution like this. We have the knowledge and ability to help them, and therefor feel that it’s our responsibility to support those who are worse off than we are.”
In Audientes and its investors, Hossein has found like-minded individuals who share his sense of responsibility and duty to help those less fortunate. Hossein believes that it’s this focus and dedication that sets Audientes apart from other hearing aid manufacturers. “Most of the hearing aid companies today focus on addressing hearing loss in the existing market. They have an expensive product and a limited production. We are developing an affordable, high-quality product for large scale mass production, so we can reach people in the world’s emerging economies. Along the way we learned about similar needs from people in all regions of the world, in the east as well as the west, who are looking for inexpensive solutions they may acquire online or over-the-counter at specialist stores, pharmacies or opticians, and fit themselves in the comfort of their own home. We know we can help them too, especially in this period of the Corona-pandemic. So we have expanded the scope of our mission to help people everywhere in the world with mild to severe hearing loss.”
It again comes back to the sense of responsibility. “It doesn’t make sense to wait for someone else to address this issue, when we have the technology and knowledge at our disposal to do it now,” says Hossein.
Getting to this point wasn’t easy. It would be six years from the time Hossein started Audientes until the company went through a successful IPO in September 2020, securing the financial support to fully commercialize its initial product and begin building its business. Yet it’s been worth the wait. “It’s been challenging, because a project like ours takes a significant amount of financial backing. But we knew it would be a long road; and we knew it would be worth it.” What kept him going during those years? “Passion,” he replies. “My passion for helping these people. For me, they’re not just faceless statistics. I know them. I grew up with them. I’m connected to them. The thought of seeing my hearing aid helping them to hear again – that’s what gets me out of bed every morning.”