Solar Ear Co-Founder and CEO chosen by World Technology Network
Submitted by World Technology Network
Solar Ear founder and CEO Howard Weinstein was selected as social entrepreneur of the year by World Technology Network. The announcement was made at the awards banquet held at the close of the World Technology Summit and Awards in New York City Wednesday night. Weinstein’s award was accepted by Nick Laperle, CEO of Solar Ear’s technology partner Sonomax.
Solar Ear designs and manufactures a solar-powered, battery rechargeable, inexpensive hearing aid solution. Technology partner Sonomax designs in-ear technology to custom fit earpieces to each patient in a single visit.
Previously Weinstein has been a Tech Award Laureate and was the recipient of the 2008 Humanitarian Award from the American Academy of Audiology.
Innovation focused on the affordable
Weinstein started Solar Ear when he saw the need for an affordable, user-friendly and ecological hearing aid. WHO estimates that approximately 278 million suffer from hearing loss of which 200 million live in developing countries. Adult-onset hearing loss is the second longest cause of years lived with a disability.
“The hearing aid industry is one of the most innovative industries in the world, which is both good and bad,” said Weinstein. “Most of the innovation has been misplaced and focused on the wrong things, like developing technology for a $7500 hearing aid. That is completely out of reach for most of the world’s deaf population.” Only 12% of hearing aids manufactured are in the developing world.
Solar Ear offers hearing solutions for under $100US. The products were featured in “Brilliant Eco-Inventions; Designs to Solve the Worlds Problems,” which appeared in the November 2010 issue of National Geographic. Solar Ear products are now included in the collections of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and the Smithsonian.
Tapping into an underused work force
In addition to innovating new hearing aid technology, Weinstein has also developed a new business model. Solar Ear hires deaf workers throughout the world to invent, develop and assemble these breakthrough products.
“The key to our success is that our workers are deaf,” said Weinstein. “They are able to manufacture at a world-class level in part because they are deaf. People who are deaf and speak in sign language have better hand-eye coordination than hearing people. We need this special ability to micro-solder the tiny components for a hearing aid.”
Solar Ear capitalizes on its workforce on several continents, recently bringing Solar Ear workers from Botswana to Sao Paulo to teach a 6-month theoretical and practical electronics and micro-solder course. “Think about that journey, leaving rural Botswana and arriving 12 hours later in a city of 17 million people,” Weinstein said. “And for the Brazilian youths, this was the first time they had ever had a teacher who was also deaf.”
Next year courses will bring together Israeli and Palestinian youths in Jerusalem, and Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir. Weinstein also has plans to work with Native Americans and Inuits to provide cross border leadership training for selling to the large North American population currently unable to afford a hearing aid, battery and ear mold.
“In addition to creating jobs for under-represented members of society, our technologies make it possible for a child to receive a hearing aid solution at a much more affordable price point,” Weinstein pointed out. “This means that child can now get an education. There are very few schools for the deaf, and it is only through education that they can break the cycle of poverty.”
About the company
Solar Ear designed and manufactures the first digital rechargeable hearing aid that uses rechargeable batteries and a solar charger. Solar Ear is currently headquartered in Sao Paulo Brazil with operations in Botswana and China.
World Technology Network
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