OTOjOY is a company dedicated to increasing access to music and speech for individuals with hearing loss, using hearing loop technology.
Below is our recent interview with Thomas Kaufmann, the Founder & CEO at OTOjOY:
Q: Can you tell us something more about OTOjOY’s hearing loop systems?
A: A hearing loop is an assistive listening system that takes sound from a venue’s sound system and sends it directly and wirelessly to a listener’s hearing aid, cochlear implant, or smartphone without reverberation, echo or background noise.
OTOjOY’s hearing loop systems allow everyone to experience sound the way it was meant to be heard, in all of its depth and beauty. We remove barriers of human sensory limitations and room acoustics by sending crystal-clear, pure audio directly to people’s ears, customized for their unique hearing pattern and preferences. We put you listeners in control of what they hear, instantly and independently, without a need to borrow equipment, sync, or enter passwords.
With a hearing loop system, people can experience audio quality as if they were sitting on stage next to their favorite artist or as if they were listening to an audio book, but while they’re right there with everybody else. Room acoustics, audience noise, and distance from the presenter become a thing of the past. People feel like they’re sitting in the sweet spot no matter which seat they choose. What we see quite often is that people’s jaw’s drop when they suddenly hear things they never imagined possible, such as a guitar pick touching the strings, the artist swallowing between verses, the water pouring from the cruet into the chalice at church, or hearing the pastor blow the candle out. Supercharging people’s senses and allowing them to hear the impossible is our specialty!
Q: What is the story behind OTOjOY? How did your company come into being?
A: When OTOjOY’s Founder & CTO, Thomas Kaufmann, set out to meet his friends for breakfast on what seemed to be a normal morning in March 2012, he had little idea that his life was about to change.
Originally from Germany, Kaufmann was pursuing his PhD in Chemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was excited for the much-needed breakfast break. One of his friends, a photographer for the Santa Barbara Bowl, a large concert venue in Santa Barbara, was complaining about his ears ringing from a show that he was shooting the night before. Kaufmann, who spent many years working in music and entertainment in Germany, asked him if he used ear plugs. His friend replied that he did not because they muffled the sound. Shocked, Kaufmann explained to his friend that while foam ear plugs may muffle the sound, custom silicon ear plugs with a special filter would allow him to just lower the volume, while keeping the clarity of sound and protecting his hearing. All of his friends were amazed and completely unaware that such a product existed, so much that one even suggested that he should start a business with it. And that is exactly what he did.
While things started out with custom-fit earplugs, a fast-paced exploration through the world of hearing aids and audiology eventually took Kaufmann to hearing loop technology, which he then decided the company should focus on. We’ve been installing hearing loop systems since late 2012.
Q: You’ve recently received 2019 innovation challenge award; could you tell us something more?
A: OTOjOY was recently named an Arizona Innovation Challenge (AIC) winner by the Arizona Commerce Authority. Ten local companies were chosen to receive up to $150,000 each in grant money. The AIC is one of the largest venture competitions in the country and is designed to advance innovation and technology commercialization opportunities in Arizona by helping early-stage ventures scale.
“We are thrilled to be considered one of the most promising and innovative start-ups in Arizona,” said Thomas Kaufmann, founder and CEO of OTOjOY. “Programs like this are extremely unique and the work of the Arizona Commerce Authority was genuinely one of the reasons we chose to make the Grand Canyon state our home. Having the local government support our work with this grant, outstanding mentorship and introductions to people who can help us continue to succeed is an incredible honor.”
This is the ninth year the AIC has supported the entrepreneurial ecosystem and innovative ideas.
“Congratulations to our fall 2019 awardees,” said Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority. “Each of these companies is advancing exciting innovations in digital health, wearables, fintech, SaaS and more. We could not be prouder to help them scale and achieve success in Arizona.”
OTOjOY’s first invention, OTOjOY LoopBuds, won a 2018 CES Innovation Award, an Edison Award and was nominated for a Global Mobile award. No other earbuds on the market use this technology. Kaufmann is leading the next wave of assistive technology for the mainstream through the use of artificial intelligence and loop technology. Kaufmann and his team are passionate about creating equal access to speech and music for everyone.
Q: Why do we need assistive listening systems?
A: Approximately 23% of the U.S. population over the age of 12, more than 60 million people, are affected by hearing loss in at least one ear. Despite legislation and available technology to provide access, many individuals find their communication needs to be misunderstood and unaddressed. Consequently, they become isolated, since many do not see the point in attending events they cannot hear at or fully participate in. As often happens, they significantly cut back on attendance, reducing audience sizes at performances, events, meetings, and religious services throughout our communities. This is where OTOjOY comes into play. We bring people back into their social lives and make sure they are fully included in the activities they choose to enjoy.
Q: What we can look forward to seeing from OTOjOY next?
A: First, and most importantly, we’re looking forward to providing hearing accessibility in as many venues as we can across Arizona and California – the two states we currently operate in. We’re ambitious though and already have the next states earmarked for growth. Aside from bringing high-fidelity sound to as many people as we can through hearing loop technology, we also have a consumer product roadmap that, while confidential, is an exciting part of our future. We’ve already brought our patented and award-winning LoopBuds to market, and there are another four or five products that we’ll launch in the years to come. Access to hearing loop-equipped environments shouldn’t just be made available to those with hearing loss, all of us deserve access to crystal-clear sound everywhere we want it. Keep your ears peeled!