European Business: Mr. Borowsky, why did you found auric?
Hans-Dieter Borowsky: I was employed at the ENT clinic in Münster from 1978 to 1981, and during this time I got to know and appreciate Dr. Theo Wesendahl not only professionally, but also personally. In 1983 I established an auditory acoustics store in Rheine, where Dr. Wesendahl also opened a practice. Together we had the idea to begin providing hearing aids that didn’t block the auditory canals like they did in the past. To achieve that, we wanted to create an artificial auditory canal. It took until 1995 when we very clearly phrased it: We are founding auric with the goal of developing and marketing a partially implantable hearing system. At the time, an American company approached us with the interest of acquiring our registered patent. Ultimately, we decided to go down that path ourselves. That was the birth of auric.
European Business: Since then, auric’s development has been shaped considerably by your involvement in studies and research. Why is that so important to you?
Hans-Dieter Borowsky: I just always think beyond providing conventional hearing aids. For years, there were no advancements. In the last while, that has changed due to digital possibilities like Bluetooth connections to smartphones, which would allow for programming hearing aids remotely. Another example is telecare, which encompasses among other things aftercare with a service representative via chat on the screen. I see the future especially in the latter. It will no longer be necessary for the customer to go to the hearing aid audiologist five times. Nowadays the aid is fitted once, and there’s telecare support with an app for the other times. That will be a paradigm change in the hearing aid sector. A lot of things will change, and we definitely want to lead the way!
"It will no longer be necessary for the customer to go to the hearing aid audiologist five times. Nowadays the aid is fitted once, and there’s telecare support with an app for the other times." Hans-Dieter Borowsky
Mark Winter: This aspect was one of the prime reasons for me to switch to auric in 2004: namely to have the possibility to be active in a scientific way. Normally, there’s absolutely no chance for that at all when you move to industry. Here, it was clear from the beginning that we make time for studies and research. That’s why we cooperate with Hannover Medical School (MHH), the University Clinic Tübingen and the Fraunhofer Institute. That’s how we as a company manage to think outside the box.
European Business: To what extent does your hearing contacts reflect precisely this self-image?
Mark Winter: The hearing contacts is a completely new approach that we’re implementing with the Mannheim-based start-up Vibrosonic. We’re talking about not only innovative, but also disruptive technology. It has the potential to replace the technology that has been in use for years. The sound transducers that we use in hearing aids today haven’t been used in the hi-fi sector for the last 80 years. The only advantage of the old technology in the hearing aid: It’s more energy efficient. People are willing to accept a “loss” in sound quality so that the battery can last about a week. The hearing contatcs, which is placed directly on the eardrum, contributes to a significant improvement in this area as well as being practically “invisible” to the wearer.
"The hearing contacts is a completely new approach that we’re implementing with the Mannheim-based start-up Vibrosonic. We’re talking about not only innovative, but also disruptive technology." Mark Winter
European Business: How have you solved the problem of energy supply?
Mark Winter: The sound transducer we use needs less energy than in the past. The hearing contacts is to be launched step by step in two versions. In the final version, there will be an integrated microbattery that should be guaranteed to last at least one day. Starting in 2019, we plan to start the clinical trials to obtain CE approval. We’re aiming at global marketing for spring 2020.
European Business: Innovation also manifests itself in your various sales channels. How did you get such a broad position?
Hans-Dieter Borowsky: One of my big topics is shortened supply channels. In this process, we work with more than 300 ENT practices in Germany today. My goal there is to be able to offer blanket coverage to everyone with insurance someday. We would like to acquire the audiological competence of the ENT doctors and accompany this treatment. That has always been our aspiration. From there, the shortened supply channels developed for conventional hearing aids, which operates under the name auric direct. Other business units include auric Hörgeräte (hearing aids), those are our specialty stores; auric Hörimplantate (hearing implants), which encompasses aftercare and service; and auric 24, our online shop, although that last platform doesn’t offer hearing aids but rather hearing amplifiers.
"One of my big topics is shortened supply channels. In this process, we work with more than 300 ENT practices in Germany today. My goal there is to be able to offer blanket coverage to everyone with insurance someday." Hans-Dieter Borowsky
Mark Winter: It is simply the case that we as human beings take different routes to buy products. One person is comfortable with his ENT doctor and would like to buy his hearing aid there. The next person prefers a consultation outside the doctor’s office in a specialty store, and younger people find information directly online. We want to have offers available for anyone interested.
European Business: auric most recently opened its 78th store. How much bigger do you want auric to get?
Hans-Dieter Borowsky: Our first thought was to open 50 locations starting in 2009. We had achieved that by 2013 / 2014. This development represents the fastest organic growth of a company in the hearing acoustics sector. Then there was a consolidation phase. At the end of 2014, we decided at a general meeting that we should keep going. There are still a lot of white spots in Germany, and clinics have also contacted us directly if we might like to move closer to them for aftercare. The next step was 75 branches, and our current goal has been set at 100. That is an important number that you have to examine closely.
European Business: What do you mean exactly?
Hans-Dieter Borowsky: If we grew to 100 branches, we would be the largest supplier in the sector after the well-known chain stores like Kind and Amplifon. That would be tantamount to fifth place in Germany. Beyond that, it requires a different corporate structure. In my opinion, however, you can get close enough to the people, and our concept of hearing implant aftercare in particular would suffer. It is imperative to hold our market share with 100 branches and to focus on expansion into aftercare competence in the branches.
European Business: To conclude, the question remains whether it will ever be possible to replace hearing completely. What do you think about that?
Mark Winter: The ear is a highly complex organ in the human body. To that extent, hearing aids are a symptomatic treatment when the inner ear is injured. Right now, hearing can be replaced fairly well with a cochlear implant. The auditory nerve is stimulated with electrical impulses. Children who are born deaf and who are treated directly with such an implant can expect to acquire language clearly and to be integrated into the school as normal. It is imaginable that hearing can be completely replaced someday.