Loop Earplugs: everything can be improved, including earplugs
Loop’s story is that of so many start-ups: someone has a problem, is not satisfied with existing solutions and then decides to make something themselves that does meet the demand. Yet the story of Loop differs from that of some other Flemish start-ups: both the technology, design and communication of the Loop earplugs are progressive and universal. That is also the ambition.
It happens to many young people: after a night out, they suffer from ‘whistling’ ears due to the noise they were exposed to. Usually, that whistling tone disappears after a while. That was not the case with Dimitri O: permanent hearing damage was the diagnosis. With an audiologist as his mother, he was well aware of existing solutions. However, these all failed: they were uncomfortable, ugly or produced a sound experience that was poor. Acoustically effective solutions, used by professional artists, were prohibitively expensive. Together with childhood friend Maarten Bodewes, Dimitri O decided to look for a solution that combined good quality with an affordable price and a good design.
Loop’s earbuds cost just under 30 euros and let users still enjoy music and conversations but protect the ears at the same time. Moreover, they are comfortable and look incredibly stylish. Both that patented design and the technology developed in consultation with universities and laboratories should differentiate the Loop earbuds. “The existing players in the industry hardly do any innovation, but there are at least 20 start-ups worldwide that are developing new earplugs. There is only one other player working like us with an acoustic channel recognised by the user’s ear canal. The users of the Loop earplugs are already satisfied: two-thirds of sales are by word of mouth,” Dimitri O knows.
Production of the earplugs, today about 55,000 sets a year, is done in China, after which they are assembled here. The plan is to increase production to 250 to 300,000 sets. Dimitri O: “The hearing protection market is growing. More and more people are becoming aware of noise pollution or already have hearing problems: that’s our target market. With our launch, we come just at the right time. The key now is to grow fast enough. For that, we need to expand the team, scale up production and build our brand.” And also: find funding. Loop initially raised money from the so-called 3 f’s (family, fools & friends), after which the bank, business angels and PMV appeared on the scene. In addition, working capital is also funded by the bank and crowd lending is still under consideration. Dimitri O: “For classical venture capital or funds, we are a bit too small, while for business angels we are often already a bit too big. PMV’s Cofinancing is the appropriate solution for us in this ‘dead zone’ because it allows us to scale up investor commitment with loans. This allows us to keep our shares, which is a good starting position for later rounds of capital.”