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Hear me out - female business owner demands

28 February 2019

Hearing Awareness Week 3 9 March

The World Health Organisation estimates more than 1 billion young people are in danger of hearing loss from portable audio devices, including smart phones. Hearing professionals also believe that anyone who uses headphones for more than 90 minutes each day could be jeopardising their hearing. March 3 to 9 is Hearing Awareness Week. We spoke with Sound Scouts owner and  Westpac Businesses of Tomorrow recipient Carolyn Mee about her plan to put hearing back on the map.

For children, hearing issues are a common cause of speech, learning and behavioural problems. If children struggle to hear, they struggle to learn. Research in Australia shows a tenth of children are held back at school by hearing loss and often the child and parents can be unaware of the issue. In the adult hearing space, research has established a link between hearing loss and the risk of dementia in later life.

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When it comes to hearing health and detecting issues early, business woman Carloyn Mee (above) – a Westpac Businesses of Tomorrow recipient – and the founder of the Sound Scouts App (https://apple.co/2Enxkwx; https://bit.ly/2txYlqI), which tests for three different hearing issues, knows she’s on the right track.

“I was working more and more with digital assets in my content production business and decided I needed to up skill in the digital space. That was around 2010,” says Carolyn.

By 2011, Carolyn could see the work she was doing in digital studies, which was on hearing and game development, needed to be further developed. She applied for a grant.

The application was successful and Carolyn began collaborating with the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL), the research arm of Australian Hearing, to develop Sound Scouts, her tablet-based game to detect hearing issues in children. (You can also use the test to detect “hidden hearing loss” in adults.)

Carolyn points out that Australia does not check children’s hearing at school entry unlike most other OECD countries, and that when it comes to the fate of indigenous children and hearing issues, the costs are horrific. All of which kept her driving Sound Scouts development.

Late in 2018 the Federal Government decided to fund a national rollout of free tests for children using the Sound Scouts App. The program, which has now begun, will run for up to five years, ensuring that up to 600,000 Australian children age 4-17 have their hearing checked using the Sound Scouts test.

(Sound Scouts is currently the only tool of its kind available in Australia validated by NAL.)

Carolyn admits it’s been a long process, and that has meant having to stay passionate, and focussed on the outcomes to the point of obsession: “I often catch myself thinking that whatever happens, if we’re all still learning and growing then it’s a good thing. Running this business has introduced me to so many incredible people and provided so many opportunities. It’s also made me aware that female entrepreneurs are forces to be reckoned with and that finding the right people with which to work and to whom you can delegate is a skill that has to be learned.”

Taking into consideration the sorts of behaviours and actions that can help support female entrepreneurs to succeed in business, Carolyn believes there are a good half-dozen that are essential. They include, in no particular order:

- Gender inclusion

- Balancing business and family life

- Support and connection

- Self-confidence

- Financial confidence (e.g. understanding and access to funding; appreciation and understanding of cash flow)

- Business fundamentals – (e.g. structure, policies and procedures)

“Having the confidence to back yourself is really important. I think this has to come from both within and without,” says Carolyn.

“Flexibility in work is a real enabler,” she adds, “but I don’t think co-working spaces located in the city are the answer. They don’t offer the greatest flexibility if you’re based in the suburbs with family, life commitments to meet.”

Carolyn also believes it’s important to equip yourself with the basic skills to run a business: to know about tax; how to manage a spreadsheet; cash flow.

“It’s important to upskill in business fundamentals and it’s important to think, ‘let’s give it a try, because what have I got to lose’,” finishes Carolyn.

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