From Ear Surgeon to Entrepreneur: A Silicon Valley Success Story
Back in the town of Evansville, Indiana, the classmates of a young Rodney Perkins likely didn’t realize they were sitting next to one of the most prolific future entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley. In fact, they might not even have seen him as a standout student. “My class ranking was in the middle, but I did really well in science,” said Dr. Perkins, of the Perkins Clinic in Menlo Park, California.
That love of science and innate curiosity is what propelled Dr. Perkins to professional heights most people only dream about. Dr. Perkins completed his surgical residency at Stanford and became an internationally renowned ear surgeon. He founded the California Ear Institute at Stanford and is an Emeritus Clinical Professor of Surgery at the University. Also, he is a successful serial entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded 13 companies that have developed products to solve problems encountered across a wide range of medical and surgical specialties.
While his numerous companies have a common thread – seeing a need and using technology to create a clinical solution – Dr. Perkins has always remained committed to his roots in otology by seeking ways to help patients improve their hearing performance. In 1984, Dr. Perkins founded ReSound, which was the first company to introduce high tech signal processing to the hearing aid industry. Today, ReSound, (which Dr. Perkins sold in the late 1990s), is one of the ‘Big Six’ hearing aid manufacturers, and the use of digital signal processing has become standard for hearing aids.
After leading the hearing aid industry into the new digital era, Dr. Perkins thought that an even better hearing solution was possible if there was a good way to directly vibrate the eardrum. The challenge with conventional acoustic hearing aids is that they only go so far in improving sound quality because they all are limited in the same way: they rely on a tiny speaker to transmit sound. These speakers can only effectively amplify a limited range of pitches or frequencies. In fact, conventional hearing aids typically amplify sound across approximately 25% of the frequency range that constitutes normal hearing. This means that they cannot reproduce frequencies that improve speech clarity and contribute to the richness or fullness of sound.
Many years ago, Dr. Perkins had conducted experiments using a tiny magnet to directly transmit sound vibrations to the eardrum. The patients in those studies were amazed by the quality of sound they heard through this ‘direct drive’ approach. However, no one had found a way to commercialize the idea since then. Dr. Perkins took his original idea of a contact lens-like solution for the ear and founded Earlens, where he is Chief Medical Officer
True to his innovative nature, Dr. Perkins is now driving another revolution within the hearing industry. “Have you ever met anyone who said ‘I love how music sounds through my hearing aid?’ Probably not. But our patients say, ‘I love listening to music with Earlens’.
By directly vibrating the eardrum, we are providing those important sound frequencies that they have gradually missed over the years. People are rediscovering the beauty of sound and are doing so without the need for surgery.”
Dr. Perkins’ passion for hearing and education is evident through his ongoing commitment to sharing his knowledge with the public. He offers monthly seminars at the Perkins Clinic in Menlo Park, where he shares the latest advancements in hearing technology and discusses the connection between hearing improvement, quality of life and cognitive health. The seminar is followed by a complimentary hearing screening assessment given by an audiologist and a medical consultation.