Starkey Hearing Innovations Expo 2016: Leading with impact and purpose

The Cosmopolitan Hotel, Las Vegas accommodated 3,200 customers and 300 employees of Starkey Hearing Technologies from 20th to 23rd January 2016 for the third Innovations Expo organised by the American manufacturer. With audiologists and business owners from more than 40 countries, this global gathering has firmly established itself in the audiology calendar as a ‘must go to’ event.

Starkey Hearing Technologies Innovations Expo in Las Vegas has been confirmed by Brandon Sawalich as a biennial event, that’s here to stay. The first Expo in 2012 was about inspiring new thinking, and pushing the boundaries. Then in January 2014 more than 3,000 delegates were “Inspired to take action.” Brandon Sawalich, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Starkey said at the time, “The overall purpose, whether 2012 or 2014 or beyond, is to bring together a group of likeminded people that are here for the greater good of better hearing.” And so to 2016 and 3,200 hearing healthcare professionals are back in the room. Some have been at all three events, for others it was their first time.

Hollywood actor, Ben Affleck, two former US Presidents – George W Bush and Bill Clinton – former basketball star, turned business man, Magic Johnson and all four ‘sharks’ from the US television show Shark Tank were the household names who provided keynote speeches or participated in Q&A sessions. In addition, there were 20 plus industry speakers with Nina Kraus and Anu Sharma leading the audiology line up and many American hearing healthcare professionals sharing best practice from their businesses. More than 50 Starkey presenters covered a huge range of subjects. Whether you wanted to know about the latest or future technology, social media for your practice, a different perspective on pricing strategies, the uptake of wireless in the US, getting the most of our your employees or tracking your marketing, every area of business was covered.

Hear better. Live better.

This year’s Expo was focused on ‘leading with impact’. With the Expo designed as “A launching pad for concepts, innovations and new ideas,” Brandon Sawalich described the event as “The dream team meeting,” with a line-up of world-famous speakers and a roomful of business owners able to create their own future. Each day would have a different focus. Day one would be about the science and innovations in hearing healthcare, day two would focus on the market place, with social media, marketing and the art of selling! The final day at Expo would be all about valuable role of purpose in business. “We want to educate and inspire you,” Sawalich said.

Talking about innovation and idea implementation, the first featured speaker was Mike Maddock. He was able to immediately split the room into two camps, explaining that people were either “Idea Monkeys or Ring Leaders.” According to Starkey, a Twitter poll of attendees did indeed split down the middle with 50% saying they were an idea monkey and 50% claiming to be a ring leader! Describing himself as a writer, an inventor and a champion for revolutionary innovation, his talk focused on inspiring and empowering creativity in yourself and your team. An entrepreneur who has worked with multiple international businesses inspiring new ideas, Maddock will be working with Starkey this year.

The Dash partnership

A surprise announcement at the expo came from the next speaker. Tim Trine, Starkey’s Chief Technical Officer broke the news of the Company’s partnership with Bragi. Bragi is the company behind one of the most successful Kickstarter products – “The Dash” – described as the world’s first true hearable device. Nikolaj Hviid, President of Bragi, took to the stage to tell his story. Fed up with his existing company, Hviid sold his business to “Do something different”. The “Different” that was created was The Dash, a hearable that Hviid says allows freedom of movement, “Amazing sound and maximum comfort.” This wireless product features an eartouch interface, audio transparency, biometric sensors to monitor heart rate, bluetooth headset, standalone music player and fitness tracker. This is supported by a ‘virtual personal assistant.” Nikolaj Hviid said, “The Dash entertains you, enables you and protects you.” He gave a glimpse in to the future possibilities with the technology and the Bragi/ Starkey partnership.

“Starkey and Bragi have a shared vision that hearing aids and hearables can empower people to communicate and enhance their abilities,” Bragi founder Nicolaj Hviid said. “The partnership between the two companies creates immense value for our respective customers. Bragi’s advanced integration of sensorics provides tremendous value to hearing aid consumers, while Starkey’s invaluable knowledge of advanced audio processing and psychoacoustics expands Bragi’s potential to enable people to utilize contextual computing audible interfaces.”

In a series of ‘Spark’ talks of innovative ideas in action Simon Carlile, Brian Dobson and Tim Trine provided technology-focused presentations about existing and future capabilities in cognition, hearing and products. Dr Simon Carlile is Senior Director of Research, leading the Starkey Research team in Berkley, California. His fifteen minutes focused on the future capabilities of the industry with the progression of Moore’s Law and the internet of things. Manager of Mechanical Engineering, Brian Dobson talked about the current situation and future growth of 3D printing with the industry worth billions of dollars in just a few short years. Hearing aid manufacturers have been at the forefront of 3D printing, using this technology to make earmoulds for over 10 years now. The future of 3D printing is both exciting and scary in equal measure as you can print a prosthetic limb or a gun…

Very early prototypes to demonstrate the possibility of sensors to detect ocular movements !

‘Made for Life’

The second big announcement came from Tim Trine as he provided a sneak preview of the new products coming from Starkey in March. ‘Synergy’ with Acuity OS is the new product platform, there is a new product line called Muse, a SoundLens upgrade and additional functionality in the Halo2. The Synergy platform features an extended bandwidth upto 10kHz which is essential for the new music algorithm, an algorithm which Tim Trine described as “Incredible.” A new wireless CROS/BiCROS product, TruLink 3.0, TruLink Beacons, 24 channels and bands on the premium product range, an MPO Boost, MultiFlex Tinnitus included in Synergy products and new SurfLink products are a taste of things to come in March.

Trine then took his presentation one stage further by talking about listener intent in future products. We won’t need EEGs to read a listener’s mind or intent, we can use their eyes. Ocular movements could well feature in some format in future hearing aid technology and a demonstration of this was available in the Innovations Centre during the Expo. Finally he spoke about the rechargeable hearing aids that will be coming next year from Starkey.

Following an expertly-handled Q&A session by Dave Fabry with ‘Shark Tank’ millionaire entrepreneurs, delegates spread out across 13 breakout sessions for an afternoon of audiology, technology and research. Nina Kraus and Anu Sharma provided stimulating audiology presentations.www.brainvolts.northwestern. edu is the place to find the research work of Kraus and her department. Those delegates not in presentations, spent time in the solutions hall, finding out about the new products at the Genius Bar or exploring the Innovations Centre.

The first day at Expo was closed by keynote speaker, Peter Diamandis. Bestselling author, founder of the X Prize and named by Fortune Magazine as one of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”, Diamandis inspired delegates with his positive take on life and enthusiasm for future achievements. He encouraged everyone to have “Moonshots!” One of Diamandis’ moonshots is to extend the healthy human lifespan, so he partnered with the human genome finder, created Human Longevity Inc and is aiming to “Make 100 the new 60.” As part of this business, they have created the largest human genome sequencing centre in the world! His X Prize competitions are changing the world. They regularly offer millions of dollars in prizes for winning innovators who frequently spend far more than the cash prize to achieve the goal!

The Starkey ‘clap line’ welcomed delegates in to the lecture hall each day!

Don’t worry about the competition

To help delegates lead in their market, the second day at the Innovations Expo covered sales and marketing tools. To cheers from the thousands of independent business owners in the auditorium, Brandon Sawalich said, “You will never see Starkey Hearing Technologies working through Big Box, competing against you, our customers.” He urged the audience to “Control what you can control, don’t worry about the competition.” Randi Zuckerberg of Zuckerberg Media used to runthe marketing department for her little brother’s company from 2005 to 2011. When she joined her brother’s company there were a few dozen employees, when she left Facebook in 2011 there were more than 10,000. In an enthusiastic hour Zuckerberg talked through the fast-paced history of Facebook and social media. Now she is independent, she is able to go through her social media top five that businesses should be using: Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter to spread their messages. She followed this with her top tech trends and finished by extolling the virtues of ‘unplugging’ from technology and then she sang a song!

The ear is the new wrist

Starkey has a new global marketing and innovation advisor. Satjiv Chahil has been in the leadership teams of Apple, Palm and HP and has advised companies such as Beats by Dre, BMW and Sony and now he is working with Starkey. Chahil was instrumental in the initiating the partnership between Bragi and Starkey. “The potential for Starkey and Bragi to transform the way customers enjoy music and entertainment, understand and manage their health and communicate with the world is inspiring,” Chahil said. “The next generation of wearables and hearables has the potential to be ubiquitous.”

Chahil named 2016 “The year of the ear” and has set goals to achieve including creating global awareness, reframing perceptions, making hearing tests a part of the health routine and removing barriers to purchase. He wants to see a fifth ‘P’ added to the four marketing ‘P’s of Price, Product, Place and Promotion. The fifth ‘P’ is Purpose. “Starkey has thousands of stories for social purpose.”

Dave Fabry followed Chahil on stage to say the ear is the new wrist! He gave a whistle-stop tour through his time in audiology from 1983 when President Reagan was fitted with hearing aids, to the wearables/ hearables of 2016. Fabry believes, “We are on the verge of combining the cool factor with the health factor.” With the ear being a much better way of measuring the body, he stated that “The ear is the new wrist” for wearable technologies.

“A brand is a promise,” said Carol Olson, Starkey’s Director of Consumer and Digital Marketing. “How you make people feel is just as important as what you make.” Starkey wants to become the most recognised brand in their sector and so the hard work of branding has begun. Looking to inspire, build trust, educate and help, Starkey has initiated a new marketing programme with Conde Nast. As one of the largest media and publishing houses, Conde Nast reaches more than 100 million consumers through their magazines and websites. Starkey has also become an exclusive partner to WedMD, a website devoted to healthcare that has millions of users every week. Part of this agreement features a hearing test on the website with 96% of people taking the test showing some degree of hearing loss.

Big brother/big data

Continuing the marketing theme was Chri s McCormick, Starkey VP of Marketing who spoke about Big Data. In a world where everything we do, on and off line is tracked, this man may soon know when you turn the volume up on your TV and will be able to target messages about hearing specifically to you. Starkey is compiling a huge database of people who have purchased hearing aids or PSAPs. 3 million MSA 30X sound amplifiers were sold in 2014. That’s just one product, multiply that by the multitude of companies and products…and you have big data.

Daniel Pink provided the Friday morning keynote. A bestselling author, Pink was named one of the top 15 business thinkers in the world by Thinkers 50 in 2013 and has spent time as chief speech writer for Vice President Al Gore. Focusing on what many see as a ‘dirty’ word, Sales, Pink highlighted that the world has changed from “buyer beware” to “seller beware” with the world of sales changing more in the last 10 years than in the previous 100. He listed the three key qualities needed to be an effective sales person as “ABC” – Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity.

The end of day two saw a return to the Expo for the 42nd US President – Bill Clinton. Focusing on the topic of purpose, Clinton spoke about his Clinton Global Initiative and the Starkey Hearing Foundation. He spoke about one of his favourite topics, the butterfly effect, and also about his flourishing relationship with George W. Bush. “We’ve had more arguments than you can shake a stick at,” but they now run a leadership development programme together and work together in many other areas to achieve common objectives. He was on good form when taking about his wife’s presidential campaign, “When you are expresident, you can say what you want…until your wife runs for president!”

It’s a kind of magic

The third and final day at Expo was all about leading with a purpose and there was another ex-President on the agenda. The day started with Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson who was the biggest surprise for many delegates. An NBA hall of famer and hugely successful business man, Magic Johnson has a very simple formula for business; it has to do well and it has to do good. Honest, passionate and walking among the audience, Johnson endeared himself to everyone with his stories about his poor upbringing but huge success which he is now using to payback in to urban communities. He said, “I grew up poor, but I didn’t have poor dreams.” Now with the multimillion dollar turnover from his businesses he opens technology centres, gives scholarships and helps grandparents learn to text and email “As the kids don’t answer their calls anymore!” Johnson always reinvests in his businesses, in people and technology, he over-delivers to his customers and he gives back in his communities.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, NBA Hall of Famer, now a hugely successful businessman with purpose.

Andy Andrews carried on the themes from Bill Clinton and Magic Johnson, referencing the butterfly effect and customer service. Andrews said he helps business compete at a level that the competition doesn’t even know is going on! He told the audience to examine what their competition was doing and then turn around and go the opposite way! “You want a customer who is a raving lunatic fan. You can’t advertise against great word of mouth!”

The morning session finished with Dave Fabry and Bill Austin talking about the work of the Starkey Hearing Foundation and working together to achieve great things. Austin said, “We’re going to make devices that help people live longer and healthier lives.”

“42 yesterday, today 43.”

The final session at the Innovations Expo ended with two Q&A sessions. The first featured Stephen Sawalich, Director of Media, talking to actor and philanthropist Ben Affleck about his Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), which he founded in 2009. He described it as the “Thing that I have done that I am most proud of.” The initiative invests in people. People don’t want handouts, people want to work, so ECI works on cultural entrepreneurship to help people get back on their feet and proud of what they are achieving.

Brandon Sawalich then spent the final session talking with George W Bush. They discussed his time in office – Bush has a host of stories to tell of his time as president that feature various heads of state – he met with Vladimir Putin 28 times so has many tales to tell! He also provided a fascinating break-down of a ‘typical’ day in the White House. President Bush also spoke about how he spends his time now he is no longer in the Oval office – oil painting, writing books, lectures and global humanitarian initiatives feature heavily. He even described President Clinton as, “My brother with a different mother,” when talking about their joint projects and initiatives!

Even after three days of presentations, discussions and inspiration the Expo was not over yet. The farewell party featured rock god Sammy Hagar and the Beach Boys at an open air party by the pool on the 4th floor of The Cosmopolitan.

Victoria Adshead, Audio Infos UK


Photos: V.A., Starkey