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Driven by a landmark decision to make hearing aids available without a prescription, startup Tuned is courting employers with an intriguing premise: to expand employee health benefits to include hearing support.

Why is it important: New York-based Tuned has raised $2.5 million in seed funding, which will help the company woo up to 15 new employer clients by the end of the year, CEO Danny said. Aronson exclusively at Axios.

  • “If you provide dental and vision care to your employees, provide them with a hearing aid,” says Aronson.

Details: Idealab NY and Elements Health Ventures led the round.

  • The company plans to raise a Series A round mid to late next year, Aronson said.

Driving the news: In August, the FDA cleared the sale of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids for the first time — a boon for hearing health tech players, including startups like Tuned and big tech companies like Apple.

  • “It’s huge,” says Aronson, who has mild to moderate hearing loss. “OTC plays an extremely powerful role there.”

The context: In the months leading up to the FDA’s decision, various companies began marketing products aimed at overall hearing health, including Apple, which last year began investigating the potential of AirPods as hearing aids and has more recently made them usable as such.

  • Since Tuned is device and software agnostic, Aronson sees the potential for the company to “fundamentally change a forgotten category of healthcare,” he says.

To note : Just last week, Sony partnered with WS Audiology Denmark to develop new Sony-branded OTC hearing health products, citing the FDA’s decision in an announcement as crucial to the deal.

How it works: Tuned is going B2B, offering its hearing support to employers as a technology-independent benefit, typically on a per-member, per-month basis.

  • Users submit an online questionnaire designed to spot red flags that might require in-person care, such as sudden and significant hearing loss.
  • Those who are not flagged and referred to a clinic are guided through two types of auditory exercises. They then meet virtually with an audiologist who reviews their results and offers suggestions on supportive technology, whether device-based or software-based.

State of play: After piloting with companies like RetailBound and Mishe, Tuned has signed deals with startups like Coral Health and Buoy Health, Aronson says.

And after: Adjusted plans to eventually make the service available directly to consumers.

Yes, but: The company faces the challenge of educating consumers and employers on the importance of hearing as an essential component of health.

  • “The biggest original sin of this category is that it created an equation that hearing equals old people,” says Aronson. “But that’s actually a tiny fraction of people who need a hearing aid.”