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Researcher's discoveries spawn Upstate New York company

New generation of hearing protectors is based on research done at Syracuse University's Institute for Sensory Research

While it may seem that products sporting the "Made in New York" label are becoming an endangered species in today's challenging business and economic climate, one small Upstate New York company is defying the odds. SensGard Sensory Protection Solutions LLC, which markets a hearing protection technology developed by a Syracuse University researcher, expects to reach $1 million in total sales early next year.

The company's flagship product is the ZEM, a simple-looking device that belies the complex physics of sound waves upon which it is based. The patented technology was developed by SU Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience Emeritus Jozef Zwislocki, founder of the Institute for Sensory Research, and is an outgrowth of his remarkable career in research on the auditory system.

Unlike traditional earplugs and earmuffs, which are designed to block sound from entering the ear canal, Zwislocki's technology actually neutralizes the sound by moving it away from the ear canal through a simple, plastic tube. The device nullifies the effect of harmful noise while enabling the wearer to continue to carry on a conversation.

"There have been no significant changes in hearing protection products on the market in 40 years," said Greg Post of Fairport, who co-founded SensGard with Rob DiNardo of Webster, in 2004. "We saw this technology as the most logical advancement in the field and a potential business opportunity."

In the beginning

Four years ago, Post and DiNardo were looking to start a new company. After attending a technology transfer workshop hosted by Rochester-based UNYTECH, they connected with Zwislocki through SU's Office of Technology Transfer. UNYTECH is a collaborative effort of Upstate New York universities to move ideas from the laboratory into the marketplace. The entrepreneurs did some market research, developed a business plan, and formed a partnership with Zwislocki to bring his idea to fruition.

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