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Exclusive: Hearing startup Tuned adds leaders with fresh funds

Illustration of the wire from a pair of over-ear headphones forming an upward trendline.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Tuned is pushing forward with its goal of getting hearing support recognized as a core piece of employee health.

Why it matters: The New York-based company raised $3.5 million in a seed extension round to grow its commercial team, CEO Danny Aronson tells Axios exclusively.

  • "We are heads down filling our ranks with people who are incredibly respected in the category," Aronson says.
  • Those people include new board members Shawn Ellis, a managing partner at Distributed Ventures, Lon Bender, an Academy Award-winning supervising sound editor, and new advisor Randy Forman, a former Teladoc Health VP.

Deal details: Distributed Ventures led and was joined by insiders Idealab NY and Elements Health Ventures.

Flashback: When Tuned debuted with $2.5 million in seed funding in September, Aronson told Axios the company would collect its Series A in 2023.

  • The company is on track to meet that goal, Aronson says.

Context: A recent FDA decision to move hearing aids over the counter (OTC) is pushing startups and large tech companies toward the hearing health market, which is expected to generate roughly $12 billion in sales by 2031, per a recent Kenneth Research report.

  • Hybrid hearing care startup Yes Hearing in November pulled in a $10 million Series A round.
  • Apple in 2021 began studying AirPods' potential as hearing aids and more recently made them usable as such.
  • Before the FDA ruling, "you had audiologists saying, 'Come back to us when your problem is severe enough for us to sell you a $6,000 device.' Now we can say, 'You are not destined to have severe hearing loss,'" Aronson says.

How it works: Tech-agnostic Tuned offers its tools to employers, typically charging a per-member-per-month fee. Its users are, on average, between age 28 and 42.

  • 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, and 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: The company is now working with half a dozen employers and is "on target" to court 15 by the end of the year, Aronson says.

The intrigue: The company faces a dual challenge of educating consumers and employers around the importance of hearing as a core component of health and hiring medical professionals amid widespread shortages of health workers.

  • "It’s met with skepticism upfront," Ellis tells Axios.
  • "Initially employers are thinking you're talking about people over 70, but when you’re looking at mild-to-moderate hearing loss and Tinnitus, it’s a broad U.S. population that needs that support," Ellis adds.

What's next: Tuned plans to launch a pediatric vertical in the third quarter of the year and is still mulling a potential direct-to-consumer offering, Ellis and Aronson say.

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