BY RICK WEINBERG, CALIFORNIA BUSINESS JOURNAL
Greed is evident virtually everywhere you turn these days.
But don’t put Adnan Shennib in that category.
Shennib has devoted his entire professional life – more than two and a half decades – to helping people with hearing impairments. Not only did he develop Lyric, the world’s smallest hearing aid, but now he’s changed the entire landscape and direction of the industry by lowering hearing-aid costs by a staggering 90 percent – from $3,000 all the way down to $300 – with his company, iHEAR.
“Hearing aids should be – and need to be – affordable,” he says. “We wanted to develop hearing technology for the masses, not just for the one percent who could afford it.”
How refreshing. In this day and age when so many people and businesses gouge the public in every way possible, isn’t it wonderful to stumble across an individual like Shennib – especially when it comes to a serious issue like hearing loss?
More than 37 million Americans suffer from hearing loss — and studies show that 80 percent go untreated, mainly because of the cost. The exorbitant prices are not because of the hardware, which is inexpensive. It’s the associated costs like research and development, overhead of retail stores and a lifetime of servicing that get folded into the price. Adding to the cost problem is that hearing aids often have to be replaced every five or six years.
And insurers typically don’t pay for hearing devices or for the associated services. Surprisingly, even the federal Medicare program for the elderly doesn’t cover hearing aids, hearing exams or the costs of fitting the devices.
No wonder why hearing aids can cost as much as $3,000 a pop – or more in some cases.
But Shennib is changing all of that.
“This is our mandate, our mission,” he says. “We were committed to creating cutting edge hearing-aid technology that is very affordable. We realized that in order to make it affordable we had to empower the consumer to do most of the work themselves. So we developed online tools to enable people to test their hearing and make the necessary adjustments to the hearing device. That cuts down the very high cost of service, which is the No. 1 factor for the markup on the hearing aids. The cost of the aid and the hardware itself is low, only $100. But by the time it reaches the customer, that $100 cost of goods becomes $2,500 or $3,000. We eliminated that by developing an online platform so people can do the entire process from A to Z from home.”
iHEAR’s devices are the size and weight of a kidney bean and are nearly invisible inside the ear. Users customize the fit and calibrate their devices using the iHEAR’s software online in the comfort of their home. The device features exceptional sound delivery, providing the user with a superior hearing experience.
As a child, Shennib was heartbroken over his father’s hearing impairment. “He struggled to buy one hearing aid after another and nothing seemed to work for him,” Shennib says. “That got me curious at an early age as to why people are not satisfied with their hearing device and what can be done to fix it and control it.”
While his friends were out playing, Shennib could be found studying engineering and sound technique in his effort to help his father. After earning a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Shennib attended the University of Texas, where he received a M.S. in Biomedical Engineering.
During graduate school, he met a disabled individual with a hearing impairment. They got into a deep conversation about cell phone technology for the hearing impaired. Soon thereafter, Shennib co-invented the predictive text messaging (cell phone shorthand) allowing mobile users to send text messages rapidly with fewer keystrokes. The University of Texas has received over $12 million in licensing and royalties for the invention.
That creation launched Shennib’s medical device career. He later joined ReSound, a Silicon Valley start-up developing the first programmable hearing aids and hearing fitting systems. He later founded InSound Medical, where he invented and developed the Lyric hearing device. His next adventure was iHEAR.
“He is a genius,” says Corinne Cole, who suffered hearing damage as a child and has spent thousands of dollars on hearing aids during her lifetime. “Mr. Shennib has changed the world with his technology and has made it so affordable anyone can buy it.”
Twenty years ago, Cole spent $6,000 on her first hearing aid – for both ears. Eight years later, she had to do it again. Last year, she needed yet another replacement.
“I was fed up paying those kinds of costs, so I did some research,” she says.
That’s when she discovered iHEAR.
“My prayers were answered,” she says. “The device works perfectly. I hear as good – or even better – than I did before.”
iHEAR Medical, Inc.
15250 Hesperian Blvd.
San Leandro, CA 94578