Global producer of hearing aids, Starkey Laboratories, Inc., will launch its operations in India next month and wants to gain at least one-tenth of the estimated $30 million (Rs119 crore) private market within the first year.
The company will sell mid-range and higher-end digital devices with price tags ranging from about $300 to more than 10 times that amount.
“The market in India is very technology-oriented and aware,” said Philip Lyons, vice-president for international operations at the Minnesota, US-based parent company. “Thanks to an increase in income levels, we expect the market to grow at a staggering rate here in the future.”
India was an attractive proposition because of sheer numbers, said executives from Starkey. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 6% of India’s 1.1 billion people suffer from acute or progressive hearing loss. Nine out of 10 cases of hearing loss can be treated with a hearing aid, according to the company.
With economic growth poised to touch 10%, the amount spent on health care is also rising as incomes increase in India. Household spending on health and medical expenses, including that on hearing aids, rose 12.5% in 2004-05, compared with the prior year, according to an Images F&R Research study.
Increasing awareness about hearing loss and younger people suffering from the problem are also driving more people to look for treatment, said experts.
Sound check: A Starkey official claps to check if the hearing aid fitted on five-year-old Priya works at the Starkey Foundation Camp in New Delhi on Monday.
Priyank Bhutani, a recent audiology graduate who intends to take over the family business at Delhi’s Bhutani Hearing Aid Centre, said people now want more than just the basic hearing aid.
“The biggest change is that it isn’t just need-based anymore,” said Bhutani, who volunteered on Monday to help fit children with hearing aids with the Starkey Foundation, the company’s charitable arm, in New Delhi. “People who can afford it want something digital and something which isn’t visible.”
However, the biggest challenge the company expects the staff to face is a shortage of trained audiologists to fit people with devices to improve their hearing. India currently has 1,600 specialists in this area compared with neighbouring Sri Lanka’s 1,900, according to Starkey.
All but about 100 of the 600 audiologists India trains every year depart for higher salaries in the West, said Starkey India Pvt. Ltd managing director, Rohit Misra.
Starkey India estimates the size of the private market, which excludes inexpensive analog devices produced and provided by the government, at $20-30 million per year. Other international firms such as Denmark-based Widex, which produce digital products, are among the leaders in the space.
Globally, the privately held Starkey says it expects its sales to rise 20% to more than $800 million next year.
Though its largest market remains the US, followed by Western Europe, the developing world now accounts for about 8% of the company’s sales and the figure is rising, according to Lyons.