5 Dec 2019
EUR 20 million
Financial institutions and SMEs
How you perceive sound has a significant effect on your quality of life, says Michael Bjergby, Head of IR and Communications at GN Store Nord, headquartered in Ballerup, just northwest of the Danish capital, Copenhagen. As he puts it, GN makes life sound better for everybody, and especially for hearing-impaired people.
It’s not just silence. A chamber with its walls, ceiling and floor all covered with wedge-shaped foam tiles immerses you in an overwhelming, deafening, even aching sensation of complete sound vacuum. You might think this is how the world sounds to those suffering from a total loss of hearing.
And yet the noiseless environment is not created in GN Store Nord’s laboratory just to let you gain a unique experience of a hearing impaired. The laboratory at GN’s R&D centre on the outskirts of Copenhagen has chambers to model a wide range of sound environments to test technologies and solutions developed by the company. Including those that might even seem futuristic.
“One of the special features that no sound device has so far been able to replicate is the localisation ability of the natural hearing that allows us to identify the source of the sound. But recent development has created features different from the natural hearing – just imagine you have GPS in your ear to guide you”, says Michael Bjergby, VP for Investor Relations and Communications at GN Store Nord.
“Hearing is a very complicated sense. You cannot restore it with a hearing aid device as you, for example, basically can do with your vision by putting glasses on.”
Still, GN believes it can “make life sound better for everybody”. “Especially for hearing-impaired people. How you perceive sound has a significant effect on your quality of life”, Mr Bjergby continues.
GN is one of the global leaders in manufacturing hearing aids and accessories, ear-related diagnostics, hands-free speakerphones and wireless and corded headsets. With a EUR 75 million loan, signed late last year, NIB is co-financing the company’s extensive R&D investment programme.
“Our R&D never stops. There is still a lot to do on the hearing aids”, says Mr Bjergby.
A hearing aid nowadays is no longer just an amplifier; today, it is a small computer with its processes being software-based.
“This is why most of our R&D is concentrated on software”, says Mr Bjergby.
GN’s research and development investment can be divided it into three pockets: the software and the hearing aid to replicate the natural sound experience, connectivity with anything that can help improve the sound experience, and the development of apps.
Wireless connectivity will allow direct streaming from the source into the ear without an intermediary. The benefits wireless connectivity can potentially offer have no limits. A hearing device can be connected to external sources, such as televisions, stereos, phones, and computers.
“We have just scratched the surface in this area. This is the future and our key competitive advantage”, Mr Bjergby explains.
The market for hearing aids may seem historically stagnant, as around 16% of the total population suffer from hearing loss, on average. In fact, there is an immense growth potential, since only 20% of those who really need an aid for better hearing use one. There is, however, a challenge yet to overcome, and it is twofold:
“One is the stigmatisation related to wearing a tiny amplifier on their ears. It is not as ‘cool’ as, for example, wearing a headset. The other is that hearing aids are expensive and can for some people only be accessible with financial help.”
“This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the hearing aid industry. I hope that in time we will create such advanced technology innovations that the trend will break and we will increase the penetration rate”, says Mr Bjergby.
Wireless connectivity can empower the hearing impaired and make it much easier to manage and control their lives. And not only them: many applications can come handy for everyone else.
“It is becoming more and more relevant for people with normal hearing to wear something on their ears. An increasing number of people are using headsets nowadays.”
GN also produces headsets for offices, call centres and individual consumers.
“This is a way to utilise sound connectivity, our core competences developed for hearing aids, in technology-based consumer products and office headsets. In the future, in order to get rid of the stigma related to hearing aids, we are striving to make them more ‘cool’ using some of the features of headsets”, says Mr Bjergby.
GN is proudly Danish. When it comes to the global market for hearing aids, Denmark is a great power, as 50% of hearing aids sold in the world come from this country.
“We have competencies within sound and engineering in Denmark. Through collaboration with local universities, we keep developing competencies to stay on the cutting edge of the latest findings. You’ve seen our lab!” says Mr Bjergby.
Established in 1869 as a telegraph company, GN has been in the hearing aid business since the 1970s. Of GN’s 5,000 employees, 700 are employed in R&D.
In the past four years, GN has also been the fastest growing sound engineering company, at a pace of more than 8% a year on average, about double the rate of the market overall.
“We want to make the world a better place and empower those who are not given a natural ability to enjoy sound. This is only possible through trial and error—R&D—and we greatly appreciate that NIB shares our view on R&D as a key to better competitiveness”, Mr Bjergby concludes.