Start Singapore : Lifestyle service for people with hearing loss

Nessa co-founders (from far left) Eddy Chan, chief technology officer; Helder Araujo, chief operating officer; Olivier Carnohan, CEO; and Maxime Lemiere, chief marketing officer.
Nessa co-founders (from far left) Eddy Chan, chief technology officer; Helder Araujo, chief operating officer; Olivier Carnohan, CEO; and Maxime Lemiere, chief marketing officer. PHOTO: NESSA

Lifestyle service for people with hearing loss

A local start-up is aiming to help elderly people who are hard of hearing.

Nessa launched a subscription service two weeks ago that comes with a hearing aid, a tablet and content, all for $48 a month for three years. Stores sell hearing aids for between $3,000 and $5,000 each. The tablet has pre-loaded content like the streaming services Spotify and Netflix, radio stations and a telephone service Skype that also has video conferencing options. New content services will be downloaded remotely from time to time.

Each new subscriber gets a hand-delivered box containing the hearing aid and tablet. The delivery person is also trained to show the customer how to wear the hearing aid.

Customers then talk to Nessa's customer service staff on Skype, when the hearing aid is remotely tuned.

Co-founder Olivier Carnohan said: "We offer as many remote fittings as the customers want, all this is done in the convenience of their home. No need to go to an audiologist any more to be fitted in a soundproof room."

Nessa developed several pieces of software for this effort, including the communication program that allows the hearing aid to be remotely tuned so that it fits properly.

"Helping a customer with hearing loss to hear again is only one part of the plan. We want our customers to be able to listen to music, watch movies and be able to communicate with their loved ones via video conferencing," he added.

Hearing loss is a common condition for people over 50. About 12 to 14 per cent of people with hearing loss globally use a hearing aid, compared with only 2 per cent in Singapore.

Nessa has eight employees and started about six months ago. It has received a seven-figure funding from an investor who wants to remain unnamed.

Russian venture capital firm raises $143m

Singapore-based Russian venture capital firm Life Sreda is raising a US$100 million (S$143 million) fund to invest in the growing financial technology or fintech sector.

Managing partner Vladislav Solodkiy said it has already raised US$20 million, with the rest expected to be locked in by the middle of this year. It has already invested in six fintech start-ups, including Ayannah in the Philippines and locally based mobile payments firm Fastacash.

The fund invests in Asian fintech start-ups, which use the additional capital to expand their businesses.

This is Mr Solodkiy's second fund. The first fund of US$40 million has been invested in 30 start-ups over the past three years.

"We focus on fintech because it is a growing market. Our in-house research shows that the financial industry services are ripe for disruption," he said.

There are few bureaus in Asia, for instance, that provide credit ratings for people so the penetration of banking services is very low. In some cases, such as in the Philippines, only about 15 per cent of people have access to banking services. Innovative services like mobile banking will fit in these areas because everyone has a smartphone, he added.

"We work closely with our portfolio start-ups. While they are focused on one or two things key to growing their start-ups, we see the whole fintech industry. So we can advise them on global trends," said Mr Solodkiy. "We've also seen with our other start-ups what works and what doesn't work. We can pass this knowledge on to our current investee companies."

EDBI and others invest in education company

EDBI, the venture arm of the Economic Development Board, is among investors that have stumped up around US$52 million (S$74 million) for American adaptive learning firm Knewton.

Other investors include venture capital firms Sofina and Atomico and TAL Education Group, a Chinese after-school tutoring services provider. The funds will be used to accelerate the rollout of personalised learning solutions for students in partnership with leading publishers and education companies.

This is Knewton's largest fund raising to date. The firm analyses a student's learning ability to steer him or her on personalised and even cross-disciplinary learning paths based both on what they know and how they learn.

Since its founding in 2008, Knewton's technology platform has been used by publishers to deliver more than 15 billion unique recommendations to 10 million students across 21 countries.

It counts global publishers like Pearson and Marshall Cavendish as business partners. An EDBI statement said it will partner Marshall Cavendish to develop personalised education solutions for the local market and boost Singapore's position as a leading education hub, as well as its capabilities in big data technology.

Grace Chng

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2016, with the headline 'StartSingapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe