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Eargo, a company that makes “virtually invisible” rechargeable hearing aids that can be controlled with a smartphone, has raised $71 million in a series E round of funding.
The raise comes as technology companies invest in accessibility to make their products more usable and investors take note of the sizable market opportunity. “If people with disabilities were a formally recognized minority group, at 19% of the population they would be the largest minority group in the United States,” reads a report published by the Institute on Disability in 2011.
Nearly 500 million people globally have “disabling hearing loss,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO), a figure it expects to rise to 900 million in the coming decades. That could be why Google started bringing native hearing aid support to Android back in 2018 — following Apple’s example on iPhone — making it easier for hearing aid manufacturers to develop support for all Android phones.
Founded in 2013, San Jose-based Eargo has a number of hearing aids on the market, having most recently launched the $2,650 Neo HiFi with the promise of better sound quality, more bandwidth, and more options to personalize the device through the mobile app. Available for Android and iOS, the Eargo mobile app allows users to connect their device over Bluetooth and tweak settings for different environments, whether they’re in a meeting, at a restaurant, watching TV, or even at the theater.
Users can also customize the treble and bass on a per-ear basis.
Eargo had previously raised around $135 million, and with another $71 million in the bank the company is well-financed to meet a “period of accelerated consumer demand” for its direct-to-consumer hearing aids. The company bypasses some of the traditional barriers to using hearing aids, with support for an online hearing test and remote consultation and support.
Through the app, customers can contact “licensed hearing professionals” who are able to fine-tune Eargos device settings remotely, based on feedback from the user.
The company’s series E round was led by Gilde Healthcare and Longitude Capital, with participation from New Enterprise Associates (NEA), the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, and Nan Fung Life Sciences.
There has been a marked increase in funding for products that promote accessibility. A couple of months back, Israel’s AccessiBe raised $12 million for an AI platform that automates the process of making website content more accessible for those with visual, hearing, and motor impairments. And the big technology companies are also investing heavily in making their products more usable for everyone — last year Google launched Live Transcribe and Sound Amplifier apps to help hearing-impaired users communicate, while Microsoft is using various AI and machine learning technologies to improve accessibility.
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