The Iowa Small Business Development Center at Iowa Western Community College helped Sheryl Butler and Mary Dyer turn their home-based hearing solutions business into a limited liability corporation, and then a corporation, providing assistance in developing their business plan, creating cash flow projections, devising a marketing plan, and understanding accounting practices.
Hearing Access Solutions started informally as a home-based business in 2008 as a response to Mary suddenly becoming deaf as an unexpected complication of knee replacement surgery. When Mary received a cochlear implant a few months later, the couple learned firsthand both the advantages and drawbacks of the implant’s sound processor. While it worked well in intimate settings, such as speech without background noise, it fell short in most public places where the background noise of daily life often made it difficult, if not impossible, for Mary to understand clearly enough to function adequately.
Sheryl was in seminary and on the road to ordination as a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister when Mary’s sudden deafness upended their lives. Providentially, before her call to ordained ministry, Sheryl had been a systems engineer for 18 years at the Kellogg Company in Omaha, where she had designed electrical control systems. She had also ventured and started her own company, OOPs Tech, Inc., where she built computers and installed network systems. Sheryl turned her knowledge, skills and experience into figuring out ways Mary could use existing assistive-listening technology in their home and in public.
What the couple discovered was that the leading, and indisputably best, hearing assistance to enhance Mary’s comprehension ability was the hearing loop, also known as induction or audio loop, a system that has been used in Europe for decades.
Initially the women used the loop in their living room so that Mary could watch TV more easily, but they soon learned that hearing access in public venues for those with hearing loss was virtually unheard of in this country. This was accompanied by a lamentable lack of knowledge about both the extent and unnecessary marginalization of millions of people with hearing loss.
Sheryl and Mary installed hearing loops in the seminary chapel and in Sheryl’s intern church, but the need for hearing assistance was much greater, not only in communities of faith, but also in virtually all public venues, such as courtrooms, museums, libraries, theaters, doctors’ offices, hospitals and more. So what began as a very specific task of helping Mary hear more clearly slowly morphed into a full-time ministry for both of them, not only in churches but in the public sphere.
After Sheryl’s ordination in 2009, Sheryl and Mary moved to Glenwood, Iowa, where Sheryl received advanced training in proper loop installation. This education has expanded not only to site visits, design, and installation of loops to international standards, but also to education and advocacy around hearing loss issues.
In 2010 Mary and Sheryl made their first contact with the Iowa Small Business Development Center at Iowa Western Community College (SBDC). They came to the SBDC determined to turn their home-based business into a limited liability corporation. They succeeded with the help of SBDC Regional Director Sue Pitts, who helped them develop their business plan, create cash flow projections, plus helped them with marketing, branding, accounting practices, and more.
Hearing Access Solutions really began to take off when it became incorporated at the end of 2011. The company has grossed over $100,000 since inception and is on track to double or triple its sales in 2014. This outstanding growth includes ten installations scheduled for 2014 and a dozen or more proposals awaiting decisions. The company’s territory ranges from South Dakota in the north, to Missouri in the south, west to Kearney, Nebraska, and east to Iowa City. The company’s completed projects include retirement homes, communities of faith, libraries, theaters, doctors’ offices, senior centers, and performing arts centers.
Mary and Sheryl also work with hearing-impaired people, helping them understand and access both home loops and portable loops that can be taken with them so they can hear better in public venues. The two women do consultations and presentations to organizations, so those involved can understand how to better assist hearing-impaired people in their midst.
Sheryl and Mary are both very grateful for the assistance they received from the SBDC saying, “The SBDC helped us set our course in the beginning and it is a comfort knowing that its services are readily available as we expand our business.”