Entrepreneurs go from silent dances to aiding elders

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/04/19/entrepreneurs-go-from-silent-dances-to-aiding-elders/

MANCHESTER, N.H. – The creators of Eversound, a wireless headphone system used to enhance group events, Jake Reisch and Matt Reiners won recognition from the U.S. Small Business Administration last week as the agency named them New England’s Young Entrepreneurs of 2016, honoring their technology’s ability to reconnect elders with their communities.

“We were totally humbled and weren’t expecting it,” Reisch said. “It’s always nice for the team to see some acknowledgment.”

The award comes as the duo continues to expand Eversound service to some of the largest chains of senior-living communities. The Eversound system is particularly geared to the needs of older people who may have difficulty hearing clearly during movie screenings, presentations and meetings. An estimated 40 million American adults experience some degree of hearing loss, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“It is impressive to see young entrepreneurs leap into businesses ownership with no fear and adapt technologies for previously undeveloped markets,” Greta Johansson, the Small Business Administration’s Granite State director, said in a statement. “The SBA is pleased to have been able to help them access capital in their early days of operation.”

Reisch, 26, and Reiners, 27, will receive the award at a May 3 ceremony at the Manchester Country Club in Bedford, N.H.

Started as Party Headphones in 2013, when Reisch was still a student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, the company changed its name to Headphone Events and moved to Manchester, New Hampshire’s biggest city. It still provides wireless headphone systems for silent dance parties, where participants have an individual musical feed with adjustable volume to dance to instead of loudspeakers.

In effect, the system permits a room full of people to appear to be dancing to the sounds of silence, as Paul Simon might say.

Reisch graduated last year from Cornell, where as part of his studies he created a business plan for the company. Reiners graduated from the State University of New York at Fredonia in 2011 after majoring in sports management. Their original business now helps put on several hundred events a year and has worked with some of the world’s largest event producers.

The founders began marketing the Eversound system to senior-living communities after groups geared to older adults reached out to the company because they couldn’t find anything that worked to provide sound for events like group meetings and bingo games. Reisch said the new opportunity to build a separate product line around a much more meaningful area sparked the company to switch gears.

“The last 18 months we have been working blood, sweat and tears specifically for older adults,” and making the system more compatible with hearing aids, Reisch said.

He added that as people get older, many senses start to deteriorate, and hearing loss can lead to isolation, loneliness and depression.

“It’s such a drastic problem loosing connection with those around you,” Reisch said.

Across the U.S., almost 20 percent of adults 40 to 69 years of age report hearing trouble, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and that proportion more than doubles to 43 percent for those 70 and older. That means millions of elders cope with hearing loss, including more than half of all men 70 and over.

Hearing loss is associated with “reduced quality of life” stemming from communication difficulty and impaired activities, according to research from the

Gerontological Society of America. The organization promotes the scientific study of aging.

The use of hearing aids alone isn’t always effective, either in group settings or individually, because the devices generally can’t distinguish extraneous noise from sounds users want to hear, such as a companion’s voice in a noisy restaurant. Also, most medical insurance policies don’t cover hearing aids, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Reisch said that some older individuals, after using the Eversound system for the first time, spoke up for the first time in years in a group setting.

“People who were sitting in silence before couldn’t connect with anyone around them and were finally able to connect with those people,” Reisch said.

While it hasn’t abandoned its initial business, the company’s evolution has been driven partly by the recognition that its product has reopened the lives of some clients. And watching hundreds of people gyrating in silence has its rewards as well.

“I love getting to witness the enthusiastic reception to our product,” Reiners said in a statement. “Whether it’s a 1,000-person silent disco party at a large university or a 10-person audience at a senior living community, the excitement of our users always makes all the hard work seem worthwhile.”