In 2007, Dr. Wei-Shin Lai suffered the occupational hazard of a family doctor — difficulty falling back to sleep after late-night patient phone calls. Her husband suggested that she listen to something to relax, but headphones or ear buds were uncomfortable in bed. The solution was ultra-thin, high-quality speakers stuffed with soft fleece into a headband.
That low-tech solution became the basis for high-tech SleepPhones, a headphone in a patented headband design, billed as “pajamas for your ears” by Lai’s company AcousticSheep. Now Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania (BFTP/CNP) has named the Erie-based company winner of the 2015 BIG IDEA contest.
AcousticSheep won a prize package that includes $50,000 in cash, a $25,000 research grant, priority access to a $100,000 low-interest loan, 60 hours of project time at the NW Industrial Resource Center, an apprentice to assist in prototype development or pre-commercialization services, and guidance from Ben Franklin’s eMarketing Learning Center and the Innovation Partnership.
SleepPhones are a strong seller at Amazon and other online retailers. Now the company is developing software and phone apps to work with its products.
“We have an idea that will transform SleepPhones from being headphones that help you sleep better to a community partnering to improve sleep throughout the entire world,” said Lai in a statement. “Winning this amazing prize will allow us to create a new technology to eliminate sleepless nights cheaply, and completely drug-free, for everyone.”
Spokeswoman Jennifer Brownlee adds that AcousticSheep is working on incorporating induction charging to its wireless Bluetooth headphones; they will be launching a Kickstarter campaign in July.
Source: Jennifer Brownlee, AcousticSheep; BFTP/CNP
Writer: Elise Vider