When OTOjOY Founder & CEO, Thomas Kaufmann, set out to meet his friends for breakfast on what seemed to be a normal morning in March 2012, he had little idea that his life was about to change.
Originally from Germany, Kaufmann was a pursuing his PhD in Chemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was excited for the much-needed breakfast break. One of his friends, a photographer for the Santa Barbara Bowl, a large concert venue in Santa Barbara, was complaining about his ears ringing from a show that he was shooting the night before. Kaufmann, who spent many years working in music and entertainment in Germany, asked him if he used ear plugs. His friend replied that he did not because they muffled the sound. Shocked, Kaufmann explained to his friend that while foam ear plugs may muffle the sound, custom silicon ear plugs would allow him to just lower the volume, while keeping the clarity of sound and protecting his hearing. All of his friends were amazed and completely unaware that such a product existed, so much that one even suggested that he should start a business with it. And that is exactly what he did.
After months of research with support from the local chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America, Kaufmann started OTOjOY as a company dedicated to increasing access to music and speech for individuals with hearing loss, using hearing loop technology. A hearing loop is an assistive listening system that takes sound from a venue’s sound system and sends it directly and wirelessly to a listener’s hearing aid, cochlear implant, or smartphone without reverberation, echo or background noise. The only sound the listener hears is directly from the sound system, creating an experience as if the listener was sitting on stage right next to the artist or presenter. This added clarity of sound allows all of the nuances and layers in music and speech to be fully captured and translated. By the end of 2012, Kaufmann’s business was gaining so much traction in and around Santa Barbara that he decided to leave graduate school to fully focus on OTOjOY.
Today, OTOjOY has expanded to serve areas across California and Arizona, with a specific emphasis on making music more accessible. With the CES 2018 Innovation Award, a WFX New Product Award and a 2018 Edison Awards nomination, in addition to a recent advancement into the semi-finals of the Arizona Innovation Challenge and an endorsement from American electronic music duo ODESZA, OTOjOY has no intention of slowing down. The goal remains to help all people, regardless of their hearing ability, to gain equal access to events and activities that they choose to make part of their lives.
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