By Sam Ouma & Ajong Mbapndah L
Nic Klopper is a renowned entrepreneur, business enthusiast, CEO of hearX and visionary in the digital healthcare space. His experience in business ranges from being an avid start-up investor, to founding 7 successful businesses and exiting 3 of them to date. His expertise, vision and passion for online software as a service application has attracted several companies’ attention, leading to him holding pivotal positions across multiple start-ups.
Nic’s vision is founded in his passion for social impact with the mission to drastically reinvent the healthcare industry using digital solutions, artificial intelligence and big data. He excels in the analysis and commercialisation of market disruptive products, platforms and technologies.
hearX is an award-winning start-up that specialises in digital health solutions for hearing healthcare. To date, by means of these solutions, hearX has impacted more than 1.3 million people across 86 countries, steering them towards achieving healthy hearing for everyone, everywhere. Prominently present in the top 20 selection of the ongoing Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize competition, Nic believes that a strong finish will be a big plus to his vision of achieving healthy hearing for everyone, everywhere.
Everyone in the world deserves access to hearing healthcare, says Nic Kopper in response to questions from PAV on his company and perspectives on the 2021 ABH prize competition.
What is your company’s primary focus?
Healthy hearing and innovation is at the heart of what hearX Group does. We use innovation and technology to make hearing healthcare accessible and to get it into the hands of the people who need it most.
What community issue in South Africa are you attempting to address?
Hearing loss is referred to as a silent epidemic affecting 466 million people globally. 34 million of these being children, and in South Africa more than 3.2 million people are affected by hearing difficulties. The effects of untreated hearing loss are pervasive and far reaching and impacts communication, socio emotional as well as academic and vocational success. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of US $750 billion.
Hearing screening programmes can be prohibitively expensive, especially in developing or third world countries like South Africa. Equipment is costly and resources required to perform such services, such as trained audiologists, scarce. In addition, the general awareness of hearing loss is poor, and the severe shortage of health personnel and expensive equipment have caused a lack of screening programs, resulting in most people being unable to access hearing healthcare.
The world needs change makers, innovators and people that are willing to challenge the status quo to bring about changes in healthcare services and systems. hearX Group is committed and passionate to make hearing safe for everyone, to prolong healthy hearing and positively change hearing behaviours that value healthy hearing.
hearX Group’s award-winning technology enables the use of smartphones/tablets and headsets for clinically validated hearing screening, which dramatically reduces the cost and simultaneously makes the process more efficient. The solutions also enable more people to have access to hearing healthcare and are simple enough to be used by an unskilled tester, in any location. hearX® has revolutionised the industry by creating technology that uses smart algorithms, big data, and newly developed tech that removes the burden of having specialists on site for the detection and diagnosis of hearing loss and ear infections.
Could you tell us about your business journey?
I am a young and energetic entrepreneur at heart, always looking for new opportunities and challenges. Since starting my first business at age 19 while studying computer engineering, I have successfully founded 8 businesses and have exited three. I am passionate about transforming startups into successful businesses and to use tech to change the world in a sustainable way.
What have been the company’s most notable achievements?
Our success has and continues to transform the lives of thousands of people worldwide. One of our most notable achievements was when we were celebrating our technology touching over 1 million lives. To date, our award-winning solutions have been used to screen over 1.5 million people across 191 countries.
As a relatively small healthtech company, compared to the conglomerates that have traditionally dominated the hearing healthcare space, our hearing aid was launched in Walgreens in the USA. This achievement and the pure scale of this opportunity was a real memorable moment for us.
A selection of other noteworthy achievements for hearX Group include being a Google Impact Award winner, winning the Accenture Small Enterprise Awards and one of our solutions being chosen as a TechCrunch Top Pick. We’re also very proud to have been finalists for the MIT Solve awards and the American Society of Mechanical Engineer ISHOW. More recently, hearX® was listed as one of the top 10 African start-ups to watch by Forbes Africa.
What have you gained from the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) competition and training so far?
As a business leader, I really value interaction with other business leaders, being inspired by their ventures and learning from them throughout the process, which is exactly what the Africa’s Business Heroes journey has provided. Interacting with great business minds opens up a world of endless prospects and possibilities. It is great to witness the people behind the inventions and ventures that will take our continent and its people to new levels of excellency, in action. The Africa’s Business Heroes journey has inspired me to continue developing and creating ground-breaking healthtech solutions that will not only improve hearing health but the lives of all Africans.
How did you hear about the ABH competition?
A newsletter with the competition information was forwarded to us by a partner.
What business advice would you give to people who want to start their own firm?
You can’t do it on your own. Sometimes it’s an ego or a pride thing. We, as entrepreneurs, are inclined to think that nobody can do it better than we can. Partnerships are really the way to grow your business exponentially. Partner up as soon as possible and as much as possible.
Partner with people and businesses that are larger and more successful than you.
Fail fast. I’ve been down so many rabbit holes in entrepreneurship, and there’s this small voice, deep down inside, that says ‘I don’t think you’re on the right track’. I think we all have that. And what do we, as entrepreneurs do? We persist, we try to milk it and get wine from the rock. But that’s not really the way to do it. Just fail fast and move on quickly. Get the first 5 right. Get the first five people in your company right. They form the basis of everything the company will be, it’s almost like they make up the DNA of the company. Don’t make mistakes early on with your team.
What obstacles, if any, did you face when starting your company? How did you overcome the challenges?
One of the main obstacles we had to face is that a lot of health tech is developed by non-healthcare people. Youngsters think of an idea; add some AI to it and push apps to the App store (or solutions to market) that are not backed by science, research, clinical studies etc. There are only a few validated healthtech companies. This in turn threatens the credibility of healthtech as a whole. That’s why we build tech that is clinically validated, and research backed, with hearX® being the most well published hearing healthcare company.
We stringently validate our tech, do numerous user studies, and hold multiple patents and certifications, including ISO 13485 etc.
How will a place amongst the eventual top winners change the fortunes of your company?
Everyone in the world deserves access to hearing healthcare. hearX’s passion for making hearing health accessible to all, has been the driving force for innovating these industry-changing solutions. This same passion, combined with the top 10 prize funds, will help hearX® to not only reach many more people that might suffer from hearing loss, but it will enable hearX® to develop a new solution helping parents across the globe, regardless of social or economic status, to get their newborn babies’ hearing tested. Every child deserves to be able to reach their full potential, and hearX’s solutions can give them the headstart they need.
What future do you see for entrepreneurship in South Africa and Africa?
Africa has proven itself as fertile ground to disruptive entrepreneurial start-ups with the potential to have widespread scalable social impact for its people. Innovation from necessity as a key driver of entrepreneurship on the continent makes the solutions uniquely pragmatic and applied in their scope. Being an African entrepreneur is therefore especially rewarding, exciting but also very challenging. Apart from having a clear value-proposition, entrepreneurship requires headstrong persistence and stamina to build success stories. To keep focused and enthusiastic we’ve built the company around a big vision for social impact. This ensures our mission is clear and can be operationalised, but also helps to keep us inspired to push harder.