Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 15, 2013

TC entrepreneurs push limits of sound

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Ryan Wells and Joe Thiel dream of changing the world of sound as we know it.

The two Traverse City entrepreneurs developed a unique new product: a wireless headset that doesn’t rely on speakers to transmit music and sound into the ear canal.

Instead, their Sound Band headset uses what they call surface sound technology. The headset transmits sound into the ear canal through the soft tissue of the back of the ear. That technology, Wells and Thiel said, allows the user to listen to music or talk on the phone without plugging their ears with ear buds and restricting their sense of hearing.

“We wanted to have a headset that didn’t block your ears in our mobile world,” Wells said. “It vibrates through the skin on the back of the ear ... it's kind of like being able to speak with someone while your home theater system is playing in the background.”

The Sound Band isn’t just a lofty concept. The pair spent more than $750,000 developing the product through funding from angel investors, family and friends. They've traveled the globe to secure product and develop a strategy to make the Sound Band the next new technological breakthrough.

Ineed, the product earned an Innovations Design and Engineering Award at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“We’ve been all over the world,” Wells said. “We spent a lot of time in China and Mexico, overseas for product procurement. The wire harnesses and board fabrication will be done in the Midwest with assembly and quality control here in Traverse City.”

Tooling and injection molding is being done in Gaylord.

Wells, 38, went to Traverse City High School, while Thiel attended St. Francis. Both are Traverse City natives and are co-founders of the product development firm Hybra Advance Technology.

They've spent much of their time on the project, but packing the product onto store shelves across the world hasn't been easy. Wells and Thiel repeatedly met with major mobile device producers. They said officials with those companies like the idea, but want a finished, shelves-ready product, and that means Wells and Thiel must raise lots of money to further refine the product, make it smaller and make it purchase-ready for companies like Samsung and Motorola.

"The pathway is now there," Thiel said. "All the resources have been developed."

Money is the key to the next step, they said. Wells and Thiel turned to Kickstarter to fund their dream. The online funding platform collects pledges for creative projects that range from business ideas to artistic endeavors.

Thus far the Sound Band idea secured $531,574 in pledges from 3,897 backers since July 30.

Those who pledged money will get a version of the product to test and give feedback to the entrepreneurs for further development.

"It allowed us to get backers to back the product and they receive the product for that backing," Thiel said. "It allows us to push it to the next level of full-blown manufacturing. All the backers get a say in how they like the product."

"This is our first generation," Wells said. "We want to get it to market. We know it works. We know it sounds great. It’s a little bit on the big side but that’s all part of the refinement process."