Melbourne-based medtech startup Hemideina has raised $1 million in Series A funding to develop and commercialise an alternative hearing aid solution inspired by the auditory systems of insects.
Hemideina was founded in February 2017 by research scientists Dr Kate Lomas and Dr Elizabeth Williams, after the pair won Australia’s MedTech’s Got Talent competition and completed its accelerator program, securing a total of $60,000 in seed funding.
Born out of Lomas’s PhD research into insect acoustic systems, the startup is developing its Hera Wireless Implant device, made up of a 15mm by 10mm in-ear bud, and an electrode implanted into the cochlea.
Speaking to StartupSmart, Williams explained the technology takes inspiration from the New Zealand native hemideina crassidens, or the Wellington tree weta, which can hear in the same auditory range as humans.
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“It’s a tiny species, so we realised we could miniaturise the current cochlea implant system by taking inspiration from this system, as to how it processes sound.”
The focus of every conversation
The startup is still in early stages, but the founders have run workshops with children using traditional cochlea implants or hearing aids, and found there’s a demand for a less cumbersome device.
“We’re working with users to make sure the device remains very much patient-focused,” Williams says.
Current solutions can fall off while kids are running or playing, Williams explains, but they’re also very much visible.
Through workshopping the idea with the children, the team found “people always start a conversation with them around their cochlea implants, because it’s the first thing they notice”, Williams says.
“It would be amazing for someone not to know, and for that not to be the focus of every conversation.”
Hemideina’s Hera device is designed to be so tiny “you won’t be able to identify the user’s disability”, she adds.
However, through their market research, the founders also discovered some demands they didn’t know about, Williams says.
“Some of them quite enjoy trying to turn their implants off … so that was something we knew we might have to build into the design.”
An underserved market
The $1 million in funding came from angel investors and high-net-worth individuals, Williams says.
Mainly, it will be used for manufacturing and testing the prototype and onboarding people to help the scientific founders with the hardware and electronics aspects of the technology.
“That’s really the focus of the next 12 months.”
It will also be used to help the team work on the regulatory side of things, “to ensure we’re fully compliant as we move forward”, Williams says.
“We’re in the highest risk class because we’ve got the implantable side, so we have to be quite stringent with all the testing and clinical trials,” she adds.
Regulation and policy is not something the founders have come across in their research careers, Williams says, and they’ve found that in this space, “that really does pretty much define your development path”.
Any medical device has to fit the regulation and meet the clinical need.
“From that, you map out what your device needs to have and the specifications,” Williams explains.
“It’s a nice structure, but learning it for the first time is definitely a lot of work,” she adds.
Ultimately, Williams doesn’t expect the Hera system to be on the market for another five or six years.
The team expects to start animal trials in about 15 months’ time, and will likely embark on another capital raise ahead of that.
Based on those results, the startup will move onto human clinical trials, which will require more funding again.
That said, Williams says if a large corporate in the hearing industry wanted to set up a strategic partnership, things could move more quickly.
“It’s a very interesting market, because there are only three major players, but the market is huge and it’s very underserved,” she says.
“So it will be interesting to see what the response from the market will be.”
The power of the accelerator
Williams advises other research-based startups to look for an accelerator program.
The MedTech’s Got Talent accelerator provided Hemideina with seed funding allowing the founders to explore the idea further, and “that was what launched us”, she says.
However, it’s also about “getting the team around you”.
Both Williams and Lomas come from science and research backgrounds, and had never run a business before.
Accelerator programs can give you “a lot of the foundational training”, Williams says, as well as helping you connect with networks applicable to your business.
“It’s about identifying who can help you and getting the people around you to drive you forward,” she says.