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Hear Life’s Story™

Lehigh Valley young CEO's goal: Remove the stigma of wearing ear protection

Growing up with parents who are hearing-loss professionals — dad is an audiologist; mom is a certified hearing-health specialist — Blaise Delfino heard their messages loud and clear.

“I started playing drums at 5,” Delfino said. “Dad said, ‘You need your sticks to play drums, and you need hearing protection to play drums.’ We had a lot of conversations [about hearing loss] over chicken parmigiana.”

In 2015, the Hanover Township, Northampton County, resident launched Fader Plugs LLC, offering the first earplug of its kind that allows users to adjust noise levels without taking the plug out of the ear.

On Wednesday, Fader Plugs announced it has hired Starkey Hearing Technologies of Eden Prairie, Minn. to manufacture the Fader Plugs molds. Delfino, who is CEO, said he hopes the noise-canceling device will be available for consumers this summer. He said the price ranges from approximately $40 for a “universal” set to $300 for custom-made plugs.

The American Academy of Audiology, citing 2014 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says about 37.5 million Americans suffer from hearing loss, with hearing loss the third-most common health problem nationally.

Delfino, who holds a master’s degree from East Stroudsburg University in communications sciences and disorders, wanted to create a product to help people with hearing loss and more. He said the company’s mission is to remove the stigma many people face, and to “aesthetically refashion and perceptually transform” hearing protection.

Delfino developed the device with expertise from his father, audiologist Dr. Gregory Delfino, and blessings from his mother, Cheryl Delfino. He and his father have a patent pending on the Fader Plug.

The product marries a tiny device that is being molded by Starkey with a button that the user can adjust with a finger for noise reduction. ProtoCAM LLC of Upper Macungie Township makes the button, according to Delfino and ProtoCAM President Ron Belknap.

Neither Blaise Delfino nor Chris Marxen, Starkey’s senior director of strategic initiatives, would discuss financial terms of the manufacturing deal. Marxen said Starkey, which makes “any device used inside the ear,” liked Fader’s “unique design” with its self-adjusting button.

“From working at a dentist’s office to mowing lawn, to building bridges or attending concerts, people fail to realize the amount of damage done to their hearing,” said Marxen. “We wish [Fader] success in selling a whole boatload of earplugs,” he said. Starkey employs more than 5,000 people and operates 22 facilities in more than 100 worldwide markets.

It’s been a wild ride, business-wise, for Delfino. Last year, the company won a TecBridge Business Plan Competition, earning $100,000 in cash and free rent in East Stroudsburg University’s Innovation Center, where the business remains headquartered.

How did Delfino, who is a 2010 Bethlehem Catholic High School graduate, devise the name Fader for the earplugs? He said he went to his musical background: A fader is a device or control that can vary volume.

For more information about Fader Plugs, visit www.faderplugs.com.