Sound Options is one of the companies recently accepted into Spark Centre’s Thrive Accelerator Program. The company was started after the team’s years of research in tinnitus. This led to Sound Options creating an innovative approach to treating tinnitus: personally customizing a sound therapy using current understanding of tinnitus and cutting-edge software.
“We’re excited to have Sound Options with us in the Thrive Accelerator. The team has developed an incredibly novel solution to a real problem that many people face daily – we’re looking forward to seeing rapid growth in the market” – said Braden Kemp, Director of Client Services and Thrive Accelerator Program at Spark Centre.
Spark Centre sat down with Michael Chrostowski, PhD, President & CEO of Sound Options Tinnitus Treatments Inc. to talk about the impact his business is making in the industry and what advice he has for fellow entrepreneurs.
What is Sound Options?
Sound Options provides a treatment for a hearing disorder called Tinnitus, which is a ringing in the ears. We’ve developed software that incorporates neuroscience research to be able to provide a customized sound therapy. Everyone’s condition is unique and has their own tinnitus profile and that’s what has made this condition very difficult to treat. What we have done is embed a computational model of the hearing brain into our software which partly came out of the research I did during my PhD at McMaster. This allowed our software to take a person’s hearing along with their tinnitus profile and predict an optimal sound therapy. Our software then embeds into music, uploads it to the cloud and allows a person to listen on their own device. We are currently offering this treatment through hearing clinics that are partnering with us.
What is your goal for Sound Options?
In the shorter term, between three to five years, I would like Sound Options to be one of the leaders in tinnitus therapy. In the longer term, our goal is to expand to other types of therapies, not just tinnitus. Things like sleep disturbance and anxiety where sound therapy and music therapy have been found to help.
Why did you decide to be an entrepreneur?
I’ve always had the need to build and grow something of my own. When I started my PhD I was looking to do research that would eventually lead to something applied. My background is originally engineering applying knowledge is very important to me. I always had in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to stay in academia but wanted to create something that could help others and build a business from that.
What are some of the key things that worked when you launched Sound Options?
The most useful thing we did is engaged our customers very early on. Not just the tinnitus sufferers but potential clinics. Even when we did our clinical study at McMaster, we used hearing clinics to help us recruit patients. It was a great way to get them engaged early on, before we even knew if the treatment was going to work. It made them aware of us and allowed them to give us feedback on their experiences and issues with other treatments in the past. That gave us some really great insight on how to sell our product to other potential clinics in the future.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
We were always told to reach out to our customers early on in some of the entrepreneurship training and workshops I’ve done. Sometimes you think ‘I have this great idea, I’ll talk to the customers later but I need to develop this idea first’. It really is true and I think my experience shows that you have to talk to your customers as early as possible. You might think something is a good idea but it’s possible that no one will be willing or interested in using it. So the key thing is to find that out sooner rather than later.
What made you sign up for Spark Centre’s Thrive Program?
I got to meet a lot of the people that are working at Spark Centre and I know a lot of the staff and advisors have skill sets that are extremely valuable to where Sound Options is right now. We’re currently in the scaling phase and need to focus more on sales and marketing. We’re also in the phase now where we want to make some distribution agreements with hearing clinic chains and franchises and with some of the requests they have, we knew we needed some legal expertise. We are hoping we can secure legal advice through the Thrive Program as well as some general accounting advice. There are a lot of ins and outs of the business side that we just haven’t had the time to handle and the Thrive Program is a good opportunity to start doing that with the right experts.
What’s next for Sound Options?
Right now we’re working to expand outside of Ontario. We’ve just secured our first clinics in Manitoba and soon in Calgary so we’re looking to be across Canada. We’re also focused on getting FDA clearance in order to sell in the US. The goal is to have that complete in the next year by 2016. And eventually other markets like Asia, where obtaining FDA clearance simplifies the process going overseas. We have pilot programs running in China at some large hearing clinic chains which we are hoping will be a major source of revenue for Sound Options.