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Oto Entrepreneur: Dr. Christina Runge, Co-Founder of Ascending Hearing Technologies, LLC (AHT)

Written by Christina Runge, PhD

In 2018, my colleague at UWM, Dr. Yi Hu, and I co-founded a business called Ascending Hearing Technologies, LLC (AHT). Prior to forming our company, Dr. Hu and I had been collaborating for over 10 years on several research projects for hearing loss, sound processing, auditory devices, and more. Our long-standing partnership combined our clinical and electrical engineering expertise that made our research, and subsequent technology development, possible.

Our idea to start this company arose from our vision to provide access to quality sound for people with difficulty hearing who currently are not served by existing products on the market. Over 80% of the adult population with hearing difficulties has unmet sound amplification needs, mainly because: (1) they cannot afford or are reluctant to pay for high-cost amplification such as hearing aids; (2) existing amplification products do not provide the expected benefit; and (3) hearing professionals may not consider these patients candidates for hearing aids. This is a critical public health concern; unaddressed hearing loss not only causes communication difficulties, but is also associated with social isolation, depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, and other serious health issues. Recognizing this, federal government entities have recently approved expanded amplification options, including personal sound amplification products (PSAPs). From this opportunity, AHT set out to develop a PSAP in the form of an iPhone application. With the AHT app, people with hearing difficulties can listen through their iPhone and earbuds to high-quality amplified sound that is custom fit to their hearing levels.

From the beginning, Dr. Hu and I worked jointly with our technology offices at MCW and UWM to disclose the technology we had developed in our labs, and to negotiate the licensing and patent agreements between AHT and the organizations. AHT was awarded a Phase I clinical trial STTR grant from the National Institutes of Deafness and Communication Disorders to investigate the clinical feasibility of the AHT PSAP app and was awarded a supplement to the parent grant to further the product development. AHT was also accepted to participate in the SBIR Advance program provided by the Wisconsin Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC). These supportive resources were crucial for advancing the development of the AHT PSAP app, and we successfully completed the Phase I clinical trial last Fall.

Entrepreneurship has proven to be a fascinating experience, with a steep learning curve! It is a very different mindset from the traditional academic approach of scientific discovery and translation to patients, and that is what is most exciting about it. The concept of creating technology that will go directly into the hands of people with hearing loss and provide them with sound when otherwise they would have limited or no access, is what drives me to keep working on this technology every day. 

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Christina Runge, PhD

Associate Provost of Faculty Affairs, Professor