Business / Corporate

Japanese and South Korean firms look to tap global hearing aid market

Nna/kyodo

Litalico Inc., a Japanese social enterprise, will use a South Korean startup’s technology to tap the global hearing aid market and provide hearing aids at a much more affordable price.

Litalico has acquired an equity stake in Olive Union Inc., which has developed a wireless earphone — linked to a smartphone app — that functions as a hearing aid, and plans to launch it in South Korea and the United States next month as well as in Japan next year.

The social enterprise did not disclose the value of the strategic investment, but Olive reportedly has raised 500 million won ($447,000) through the share sale, according to local media reports.

The new hearing aid, which resembles an earbud, will carry a price tag ranging from 200,000 to 250,000 won ($179 to $224) per piece, about one-tenth the price of a conventional product, an Olive spokesman said.

The number of people with hearing impairments is estimated at about 700 million globally, according to Litalico.

In Europe’s major advanced economies and the United States, they account for around 10 percent of each country’s population, according to the 2015 Euro Trak, a survey by the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association.

Last year, the South Korean firm raised more than $800,000 through Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site, to finance its business, Litalico said.

In Japan, the self-reported hearing-impaired population is estimated at 14.3 million, or 11.3 percent of the total.

Of those, 13.5 percent use a hearing aid, compared with usage rates of 42.4 percent in Britain and 30.2 percent in the United States, according to a similar collaborative survey by Japan’s hearing aid industry body and its European counterpart.

Litalico, which was listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2017, offers job-hunting support and educational assistance for physically disabled or disadvantaged people.

It has also invested in Whill Inc., a Yokohama-based company developing electronic wheelchairs.