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University of the Pacific students (left to right) Christine Hatch, Hoon Kim and Nicole Parnala demonstrate the EON Audiometer to an attendee of the Nov. 20 Region Rising conference in Sacramento. The EON Audiometer will provide low-cost hearing screening and is up for a $10,000 prize in a national business plan competition.

University of the Pacific students Christine Hatch (left to right), Hoon Kim and Nicole Parnala demonstrate the EON Audiometer to an attendee of the Nov. 20 Region Rising conference in Sacramento.

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Pacific News

Students invent low-cost device to screen for hearing loss

Audiometer could help underserved people worldwide
May 23, 2016

A device developed by University of the Pacific students that would provide low-cost hearing screenings is in the running for a $10,000 prize in a national business plan competition. The students plan to offer the device first to California's 94 senior centers.

The EON Audiometer, invented by bioengineering majors Tiffany Lee '16, Nicole Parnala '15 and Edison Huang '15 as part of a senior design project, is one of 28 entries in the VentureWell BMEidea competition for undergraduate and graduate college students. Entries submitted by collegiate biomedical entrepreneurs are judged on technical, economic and regulatory feasibility; contribution to health and quality of life; technological innovation; and the commercialization potential of the device.

Less than half the size of a small box of facial tissue, EON's elegant construction and operation make it an economic alternative to conventional audiometers that can cost nearly $1,000. The device's ease of operation eliminates the need for an audiologist or licensed professional to administer the screening, an important factor in making screenings accessible to the estimated 360 million people worldwide who suffer from hearing loss.

"Turning EON into a startup seemed like a very possible dream," said Lee, of San Jose, who graduated in May and is planning to attend graduate school to study engineering management.

Less than half the size of a small box of facial tissue, EON's elegant construction and operation make it an economic alternative to conventional audiometers.

Lee and her team will learn the entry's fate in mid-June when the results will be announced at the MD&M East Medical Device Trade Show and Convention in New York City.

VentureWell, a nonprofit higher education network with a mission of helping young scientists launch ventures that improve life for people and the planet, has invested more than $7.5 million in grants to the universities of more than 500 student teams. Those teams in turn have raised more than $620 million to launch new businesses.

"It was a huge accomplishment for us to create a product that worked the way we had hoped it would," said Parnala, of San Ramon, who graduated last year and is currently working in the San Francisco Bay Area for a biotech firm that makes DNA synthesis machines. "Taking the project further by writing a business plan was like icing on the cake."

Parnala learned the business plan ropes during a technology-based entrepreneurship course at Pacific, in which teams of engineering, business and graphic arts students collaborate on bringing an invention to the market. The team grew to include business administration major Christine Hatch '16, of Pleasanton, engineering management major Hoon Kim '17, of Sunnyvale, and graphic design major Chris Dutra '16, of Stockton. Hatch graduated in May and is seeking a job in human resources or business strategy and Kim, who graduates in 2017, begins his co-op with Holt of California this summer. Huang, who graduated last year, is working as an engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area medical device industry.

The team spent a semester researching marketing, intellectual property, and all aspects of developing a product. By the end of the semester, the device was working and housed in a casing made on the university's 3-D printer. The team also had created and trademarked a new name and logo, along with marketing materials, and had written a detailed plan for commercializing the device through a 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization. The team wanted to make their possible startup a nonprofit to help ensure screening services would be affordable to low-income people, including residents of local senior centers. The competition application included a video explaining the device.

"Future students will benefit from the success of this initial team," said Cynthia Wagner Weick, professor at Pacific's Eberhardt School of Business, who teaches the entrepreneurship course. "Even if we do not win we will have learned the ropes of the competition."

Initially dubbed "Sound Lounge" by its inventors, the EON Audiometer is equipped with headphones and has just four buttons - one to turn it off, two to adjust the volume, and a fourth to adjust the frequencies covering the standard range of human hearing. It turns on automatically when it is plugged in and the test is programmed using a credit-card-size computer chip. An LCD display shows tone frequency and volume. A person being screened can see the results and know immediately if they need further testing.

Over the next three years the team hopes to raise needed startup funds through grants and possible crowdsourcing. They plan to market EON Audiometer to California's 94 senior centers before marketing it to senior centers throughout the United States and to agencies in developing countries where people do not have access to hearing screenings.

The device was tested at Pacific's Speech Language and Pathology lab. The university's Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology is a respected leader in educating health care professionals and providing services to children and adults with speech, language and hearing disorders.

Media contact:
Keith Michaud | 209.946.3275 (office) | 209.470.3206 (cell) | kmichaud@pacific.edu