25 August 2020

NHS to entrepreneur

The journey from tolerating hearing loss to preventing it

Dr David Greenberg, CEO and founder of Eave, an Internet of Things startup which has designed the world’s first smart ear defenders with integrated noise monitoring, tells the story of leaving the NHS to set up his own company as an entrepreneur.

When I left my career as an audiologist to be an entrepreneur and start Eave, people would often look askance at me, as if it was somehow unworthy moving from healthcare to business. And I can understand that. But to survive in a highly stressful environment you have to feel like you’re achieving something, and what they hadn’t realised at the time was that I would be able to help more people outside of the NHS than in.  

For me, as an audiologist, clinical work became frustrating. Not through any political, financial or hierarchical concerns. But because the work was so limiting. The truth was that there was little I could do to help my patients within the field. The research simply wasn’t – isn’t – there. So, I left the NHS to start Eave in an attempt to counter that. Being an entrepreneur is not how I saw my career panning out. But it’s been a fascinating and rewarding learning curve so far. 

The trouble with clinical audiology

Imagine you have a patient who is beginning to lose their hearing. They’re in denial because, well – who wants to face up to that? It’s isolating, frustrating, frightening, life-limiting. And for a huge number of people, it’s also sadly embarrassing. Eventually, they give in and admit they need help. As a clinician, the main solution you can offer is a hearing aid. And it takes some persuasion. In the quiet environment of the consultation room your patient feels restored. But when they step out into the real world, their ability to listen and communicate drops away because the tech can only do so much.  Thus, your patient is disappointed and feels let down. You are frustrated because you’ve spent time, effort and money to produce a result that is little more than a half measure. 

This is the trouble with clinical audiology. And that is why, after practising clinical audiology I embarked on a PhD in auditory neuroscience – this was the first step towards Eave.

The path to entrepreneurialism

Studying auditory neuroscience showed me why the existing tech simply can’t cut it in the real world. But university life opened other, unexpected avenues. I was encouraged to engage with business development and entrepreneurship programmes. As my academic and scientific understanding increased, so too did my commercial knowledge, and I began to think that what patients needed didn’t exist, so maybe I could create other solutions. 

The progression from the NHS to Eave 

While, on paper, clinical audiologist and CEO seem like disparate roles, my progression from the NHS to Eave felt very natural to me. The NHS provided me with a strong foundation of skills, knowledge, methodology and ethics upon which to build my business. Eave  will return that investment with equipment that will help the NHS, reducing the drain on resources by reducing the occurrence of unnecessary hearing loss. 

The NHS taught me many things, but there are two that have really been pivotal. Firstly, the importance of evidence-based best practice. All of Eave’s work is built around evidence. It doesn’t matter what people think or what people’s opinions are. It’s the hard facts that really matter. And it’s the ethos of the NHS that has instilled that in me. 

Secondly, the importance of communication and teamwork. In the megastructure that is the NHS these things aren’t always possible. And that’s where frustration begins. When you’re working in a far smaller team, as with Eave, communication is critical. You have to build cohesion, motivate and instil best-practice. Open communication and teamwork are necessary to success.  

The development and future of Eave 

Since 2015, Eave has been in a constant cycle of development and production. We’ve moved from our minimum viable product, an IoT hearing conservation system using ear defenders and noise monitoring software that prevents Noise Induced Hearing Loss, to a revised and upgraded product enhanced through end-user testing and feedback. 

This year we’ve focussed on the Construction Industry, where the need to protect workers from noise is paramount. Our second generation product, the Eave FocusLite has proved successful on construction sites , and is now being rolled out across the industry. In fact in the last month two major Construction firms, Galliford Try Highways and CSjv, mandated our unique form of hearing protection with integrated noise monitoring across their supply chains. This is a game changer for Health & Safety in the industry and one I’m incredibly proud to be a part of. 

In the future, we have new product ranges and new features planned for different demographics and industries. While our primary concern has been – and will remain – the prevention of hearing loss, we’ve discovered other things that our tech could assist with: augmented hearing; pre-existing hearing loss; and a full range of products that we can take to the industrial, medical and consumer sectors. 

The years since I made the decision to leave the NHS have been a period of intense learning for me. Both about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and about the rich value of the NHS as an institution. I could not have founded Eave  without the foundation of knowledge and evidence-based approach that I accrued in clinical practise. But equally, it’s my belief that the NHS cannot be sustainable without the work of organisations like Eave. It’s totally symbiotic and positive because of that, and an example of how business and government can work together.