In 2013, Owen Song’s uncle was having trouble hearing and decided to be ﬁtted for expensive, traditional hearing aids. After three frustrating days using them, he gave them up completely. He complained to Owen that they were uncomfortable, they were embarrassingly ugly and they weren’t helping him hear better in his daily life.
As an engineer, Owen was curious to see how his uncle’s now discarded hearing aids worked, so he dismantled them. While their price suggested high-end, cutting-edge technology, they actually contained only rudimentary components. These expensive hearing aids were much less sophisticated than even the simplest smartphone and had no thoughtful design behind them whatsoever.
Inspired by his uncle, Owen started researching and learned that most people with impaired hearing aren’t doing anything to help themselves hear better for two reasons. First, there is a social stigma associated with wearing conventional hearing aids. Second, even though the manufacturing cost is only around $100, most hearing aids are marked up astronomically, from $2,000 to $6,000, so many people simply can’t afford them.
Owen’s “a-ha moment” came when he noticed how hip, tech-savvy, fashion-forward young people correct their vision problems proudly, celebrating their individuality with stylish, bold frames. Owen realized hearing aids could be a similar accessory: a functional, elegant, sleek wearable that anyone would be happy to wear. Eyeglasses and earbuds were already ubiquitous – why not hearing ampliﬁcation?
Owen got to work, creating 9,231 hardware designs and 822 working prototypes before ﬁnally launching a crowdfunding campaign in November 2016. More than 6,800 backers ordered $900,000 in pre-sales and provided invaluable feedback. Based on this overwhelming positive response, Owen founded his company, Olive Union and launched his ﬁrst product, the Olive Smart Ear at CES in 2020.
Each Olive Smart Ear is a single-ear hearing ampliﬁer that improves the sound of everyday life and is customized to your own hearing. When paired to a smartphone with Bluetooth, each earbud can also amplify phone calls. Using patented hearing ampliﬁcation technology for a clear and balanced sound, pre-set modes instantly adjust to various listening environments. No need for a time-consuming ﬁtting; startup is simple. Olive’s intuitive app allows users to do a ﬁve-minute hearing test on their smartphone, which automatically sets the best audio frequencies while canceling background noise and feedback. And they’re affordable at $299 for a single earbud, charging case and free app download.
“With the Olive Smart Ear, we’ve combined cutting-edge technology, modern design, an intuitive user experience and an affordable price,” says Owen. “We hope to change social perception and remove existing barriers for people to improve their hearing, one ear at a time.”