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Exclusive: After landmark FDA ruling, Tuned debuts its hearing tech

Illustration of headphones in the shape of money

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Spurred by a landmark ruling making hearing aids available without prescription, startup Tuned is courting employers with an intriguing premise: Expand employee health benefits to include hearing support.

Why it matters: New York-based Tuned raised $2.5 million in seed funding, which will help the company court up to 15 new employer customers by year-end, CEO Danny Aronson tells Axios exclusively.

  • "If you’re giving dental and vision to your employees, give them hearing support," Aronson says.

Details: Idealab NY and Elements Health Ventures led the round.

  • The company anticipates raising a Series A round mid-to-late next year, Aronson says.

Driving the news: The FDA in August permitted hearing aids to be sold over the counter (OTC) for the first time — a boon for hearing health tech players, including startups like Tuned and large tech companies like Apple.

  • "It's massive," says Aronson, who has mild-to-moderate hearing loss. "OTC plays a hugely powerful role there."

Context: In the months leading up to the FDA ruling, a range of companies started marketing products geared at overall hearing health — including Apple, which last year began studying AirPods' potential as hearing aids and more recently made them usable as such.

  • Since Tuned is device- and software-agnostic, Aronson sees potential for the company to "fundamentally change a forgotten category of health care," he says.

Of note: Just last week, Sony teamed up with WS Audiology Denmark to develop new Sony-brand OTC hearing health products, citing the FDA ruling in an announcement as crucial to the agreement.

How it works: Tuned goes B2B, offering its hearing support to employers as a tech-agnostic benefit, generally on a per-member-per-month basis.

  • Users submit an online questionnaire designed to spot red flags that might require in-person care, such as sudden significant hearing loss.
  • Those who aren't flagged and directed to a clinic are guided through two types of hearing exercises. They then meet virtually with an audiologist who reviews their results and offers suggestions on supportive technology, whether it’s device- or software-based.

State of play: After conducting pilots with companies such as RetailBound and Mishe, Tuned has inked contracts with startups including Coral Health and Buoy Health, says Aronson.

What's next: Tuned plans to eventually make the service available directly to consumers.

Yes, but: The company faces the challenge of educating consumers and employers around the importance of hearing as a core component of health.

  • "The biggest original sin of this category is that it’s created an equation that hearing equals old people," says Aronson. "But that’s actually a tiny fraction of the people who need hearing support."
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