Since the production of the first audio systems in the late 19th century, people have been listening to audio sound only with their ears. FLEXOUND wants to change this.
FLEXOUND is an Espoo-based deep tech startup that has developed FLEXOUND Augmented Audio™. It is the only audio system that offers one sound source that combines both the sound and vibration of all frequencies and provides an augmented audio experience.
In other words, with FLEXOUND's technology, you can feel the sound touch your skin, feel it in your body, hear it and "experience it like never before," as Mervi Heinaro, CEO of FLEXOUND, puts it.
"When you have two senses — hearing and touch — that sense the sound, you both get to listen to a better quality of sound and get to feel the sound. It's a highly immersive experience."
Modular audio technology for the entertainment and mobility industries
FLEXOUND focuses on two industries: entertainment (cinema) and mobility (automotive and aerospace). Depending on the industry, the company's augmented audio solution brings different benefits with the same technology.
And there lies the beauty of the startup's audio technology: it's modular. You get a hardware-enabled solution, which means that the company licences you the tech and if needed, the core components.
"FLEXOUND has the potential to be a company with an annual market potential of one billion Euros."
You can use FLEXOUND's patented module in any soft object in contact with the human body. For example, in a pillow such as HUMU Augmented Audio Cushion, mattress, chair, or seat.
For the entertainment industry, FLEXOUND provides an immersive experience of sound. The solution puts you in the movie — just with less volume and better sound quality. For the automotive industry, the technology is weight, cost, space, and energy-efficient.
"FLEXOUND is near-field listening. It decreases sound pollution significantly. You need less volume, and there is very little sound leakage. Therefore, with our solution, you won't bother the people around you," Heinaro explains.
In addition to using the technology in cars, movie theatre seats, entertainment systems, and gaming purposes, there is also a healing aspect to the FLEXOUND audio system — which is where it all started for the startup.
Children's therapy was the inspiration for FLEXOUND's innovation
The needs of autistic children were the starting point for FLEXOUND's innovation. In the mid-2010s, Mirja Linjama, an occupational therapist with 30 years of experience working with autistic and disabled children, came up with the idea: To have a portable solution that features unlimited sound content, vibration and healing qualities.
Next, she asked her engineer husband, Jukka Linjama, to build her such an audio device. Jukka, who has a PhD in Acoustics and electrical engineering from Aalto University and a long research background at VTT and Nokia, went and built his wife a prototype. It turned out that his prototype was something that didn't exist before.
"Our innovation was to combine the wellbeing and entertainment benefits by bringing relaxation and pain relief qualities to any sound content: to entertainment, music, movies, games, anything," explains Heinaro.
FLEXOUND found business focus in B2B after trying the consumer market
Soon after invention, Heinaro and Tommi Immonen (COO) joined on board to take the prototype forward and establish the company. And it didn't take long for them to bring a functioning product into the market and get its first international clients.
"Already in 2015, we managed to bring something completely new into a highly competitive industry — and surprise some of the bigger audio companies."
Despite a fast start and unique innovation, it took a while for FLEXOUND to find its business focus. First, the company tried out the consumer product market. And, sure enough, again, FLEXOUND was quickly able to mass-produce a product.
"For a five-people strong company, to mass-produce a product for the consumer market is a big achievement. Even though we soon realised that we are not a consumer product company, the fact that we were able to do that showed how ready we were."
Finally, FLEXOUND focused on the B2B segment in the automotive, aerospace and cinema industries. In 2019, after eighteen months of product development, the company launched the FLEXOUND Augmented Audio™ system for cinema. And in nine months, the company had its first commercial cinema client, with four new ones following in quick succession.
"Our innovation was to combine the wellbeing and entertainment benefits by bringing relaxation and pain relief qualities to any sound content."
FLEXOUND's growth showed no signs of slowing down when entering 2020. Then, COVID-19 happened, and aviation and cinema companies were hit hard by the pandemic's economic effects. The startup's growth plans slowed down as a result, but Heinaro is excited about the company's future.
"People and goods need to move, and the automotive industry has a pressing need to make vehicles more sustainable by bringing low-emission and lighter vehicles in the market. All in all, we have a huge potential in the connected mobility segment."
And why wouldn't Heinaro be optimistic? In only 5 years, FLEXOUND's immersive, multi-sensory audio experience is already disrupting the hundred-year-old experience of audio sound. It also seems that people have returned to cinemas in the markets where it’s already possible.
"We see that FLEXOUND has the potential to be a company with an annual market potential of one billion Euros in 10-15 years," she concludes.
Hero image: FLEXOUND
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