Madeline Bennett is driven by a passion for entrepreneurship and hearing science, so when she saw an opportunity to leverage her interests to solve a problem facing her peers, she jumped at it.
She observed chronic noise-induced hearing loss that could be prevented if more people used hearing protection in loud environments. It inspired her to create a product to reduce the stigma around wearing earplugs.
As part of a class project, Bennett developed a prototype for an earplug attachment that gives traditional hearing protection some style. Based on positive feedback from classmates and her professor, she decided to turn Otogear into a real startup, undaunted by the fact that she was still a junior in college at the University of Washington.
“I have a lot of family members that suffer from [hearing loss] which is why this project is really exciting for me,” she said. “It has the potential to create a new generation of hearing protection users because if kids want to use hearing protection, it will help protect them from noise-induced hearing loss in the future.”
The patent-pending Otogear earplug attachments come in a variety of styles and colors, “like a phone case for your earplugs” Bennett says.
Otogear isn’t Bennett’s first entrepreneurial endeavor. In 2011, she founded Owl Be Better With Music, a non-profit that brings music to patients and families at Shriners Children’s Hospital.
She first became interested in music, speech, and hearing science as a child, after several years of speech therapy helped her overcome an articulation disorder.
Bennett graduated from UW in May and recently left her day job to focus on Otogear full-time. Her team includes UW professor and audiologist Kelly Tremblay and former Disney exec Serina Rockwell. Her mother, Traci Bennett, runs operations, drawing on years of experience as a business consultant.
Otogear is currently in the friends and family investment stage. Soon it will begin its first fundraising round and launch a Kickstarter campaign. The startup already has manufacturers lined up and plans to start selling in the next few months.
Initially, the Otogear attachment will come with high-quality reusable earplugs that Bennett and her team have selected.
“We want to make sure whatever we provide with our Otogears is the best in the market so we do a lot of research in terms of which ones we pair with,” said Bennett.
In October, Otogear placed third in OSHA’s national Hear and Now – Noise Safety Challenge in Washington D.C. The event was hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor.