Ottawa-born hearing tech firm expands scope following acquisition

health
Stock photo used for representational purposes only.

An innovation in hearing tests born out of an Ottawa hospital is taking its mission worldwide following a recent acquisition by a billion-dollar company.

Clearwater Clinical, founded back in 2005 by Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario surgeon Matthew Bromwich, was acquired in December by Sivantos Group, a major global player in hearing technology spun out of Siemens in 2015. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Clearwater developed a few devices aimed at the health-care market, but its breakout success has been Shoebox, an iPad-based audiometer that acts as a substitute for professional hearing tests. The Food and Drug Administration-approved application offers an accessible alternative to patients in need of a hearing test, many of whom face extensive travel and waiting lists before they can see an audiologist.

“There's a lot of outlying towns and places where there’s just simply no specialist there,” CEO Mike Weider tells OBJ.

The 55-person Ottawa-based company will continue to operate largely as a standalone firm, says Weider, who joined the team roughly five years ago in a push to commercialize the Shoebox solution.

Shoebox has three primary target markets. The first is health-care providers themselves, particularly physicians and hospitals operating in remote areas such as the far north where specialized testing equipment and booths are unavailable.

The next market targets companies in sectors such as oil and gas, construction and air travel, where excessive noise can lead to hearing loss. In these fields, regulations say employers must test workers on an annual basis to establish a baseline and regular updates for hearing health.

The final use case, and perhaps the one most applicable to the company’s acquisition, is in the hearing aid market. Sivantos is one of a few global powerhouses in this field, bringing in more than a billion euros in revenues in fiscal 2018. The company recently became even bigger, announcing at the beginning of March it has completed its merger with fellow hearing tech firm Widex to form WS Audiometry.

Providers fitting up patients with hearing aids require on-site testing to fine-tune the inner-ear devices to each user’s needs. Clearwater first started working with Sivantos last year on a strategic partnership that would see Sivantos fold the Shoebox system into its own hearing aid offerings, but as is often the case with M&A discussions, Weider says “one thing led to another” and an acquisition deal was struck in December.

New FDA regulations will soon see certain low-grade hearing aids available to patients over the counter, which will open up a new wave of demand for accessible hearing tests.

“You need a test to support those new channels,” Weider says.

With the backing of a hearing tech behemoth, Weider expects the Shoebox solution to take off internationally. Sivantos alone has a presence in more than 100 countries, he says, noting markets such as China and India as ripe for disruption.

Wherever the company’s solution goes next, Weider says the core of the company Bromwich launched in Ottawa more than a decade ago hasn’t changed.

“Our mission remains the same, which is to expand hearing health care to the world and to make it more available and accessible.”