Best Cities Entrepreneurs

Hear, Hear

You could say Jo Waldron and Shirley Crouch had a sound idea when they founded Phoenix Management Inc. in Fountain, Colorado, just south of Colorado Springs. Their company develops low-cost technology products for the deaf and hearing-impaired.

It's no wonder the two entrepreneurs heard their calling. Waldron, 45, was born with a 97 percent hearing loss; Crouch, 53, is deaf in one ear and has a 40 percent to 50 percent hearing loss in her other ear. "Between the two of us, we have one good ear," jokes Crouch.

The pair developed their Hearing Aid Telephone Interconnect System (HATIS) in 1990 after less than a year of research and with no background in technology-just a knowledge of what they needed. Once they hired an engineer to create the prototype and a manufacturer on the East Coast to produce it, they were on their way. HATIS plugs into the headphone jack in TV sets, computers, cellular telephones and, with the aid of adapters, regular telephones to enhance the sound.

Most similar products on the market are designed for people with slight to moderate hearing loss, Crouch says, while HATIS caters to the rest of the more than 30 million hearing-impaired people in the United States with moderate to off-the-chart hearing impairments.

"We started out three steps before rags, and we'd like to be four steps above riches," says Waldron, who adds 1996 sales should top $250,000.

Meanwhile, Crouch and Waldron wouldn't hear of moving their company. "Colorado Springs is large enough to accommodate everybody's needs," says Crouch, who believes the area offers the best of both worlds. "It's a big-city-type existence, but we also have the four seasons, we have the mountains and we have wonderful people. I wouldn't run our business anywhere else."

Sounds good to us.

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This article was originally published in the October 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Best Cities Entrepreneurs.

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