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Minneapolis Earplug Entrepreneur Finds Unique Niche In Autism Community

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A Minnesota entrepreneur is getting praise from around the country for his tiny idea.

"Vibes" are designed not to block outside noise, but to lower the volume. The small ear plugs are getting big praise -- but not for their intended use. The business mission is taking a heartfelt turn.

There's just something about seeing your favorite musician play in person, but sometimes live concerts can have loud consequences. Jackson Mann of Minneapolis knows firsthand.

"I had originally ended up rupturing my ear drum due to loud sound at a concert," he said.

That injury got the music lover's attention, loud and clear. He started wearing ear plugs, but quickly realized they muffle and distort the music.

"That was the real catalyst, to me, to try to create something that allowed people to still hear the sound of music clearly, just at a lower decibel where your ears weren't becoming damaged or strained," Mann said.

With the help of the University of Minnesota's sound lab, he created Vibes high-fidelity, discreet ear plugs.

"Nobody wants a big, bright, dorky, neon foam piece sticking out of their ears," Mann said.

The way Vibes work, instead of blocking out or muffling the sound around you, they simply lower the volume, so you can still communicate with the people around you.

Four months in, he was asked to pitch the product in Los Angeles on national TV in front of 6 million people. He soon realized how good Vibes can be.

"When you get yourself in front of 6 million people, they kind of told us what they were using it for," he said.

The emails started pouring in -- customers were using Vibes for sensory issues.

Noah's dad's email brought Mann to tears.

"We have tried ear muffs, ear phones, ear plugs and even ear phones with his electronics playing to try and buffer the sound that tends to cause him displeasure," Dan Zinkiewicz wrote.

Like many people with autism, Noah hears noises much much louder than the rest of us. From Dayton, Ohio, his father says Noah first tried them at a play, when he was agitated from the noise.

"I got him to put them in, and literally not another issue the whole time," Zinkiewicz said. "So I'm literally texting my wife, 'Hey they're working! He's sitting here, not even budging with them at all.' So it was really cool."

Since then, Noah has been able to explore the world like never before. Zinkiewicz says the family was finally able to go on a cruise because Vibes control Noah's hearing level so well.

"I tell people about them nonstop, because it makes a big difference," he said.

The correlation is no surprise to the head of the Autism Society of Minnesota, Jonah Weinburg, who says ear protection typically looks like large head phones.

"To have something that isn't quite as obvious, that maybe just fits in the ear, could help someone get what they need as far as blocking out sound, but also just navigate the world in a more normal, less outstanding sort of way," Weinburg said.

The society has partnered with Vibes so his clients can try out the technology.

"It may not have been created for people with autism, but it can certainly help make their lives a lot better," Weinburg said.

Mann says he's surprised and thrilled to have all the attention on his product.

"This was a discovery for us as much as it has been for other people, in terms of finding out that our product can really work in their lives to make it better," he said.

Mann is now focusing on catering to people with special needs. Vibes has a new calling, and they're listening.

"Yes, it's off from our first mission of concerts and events, but it has a much better feeling to be helping people in that world," Mann said.

Vibes cost $23.99 a pair. He sells them online and in a few stores. The company is growing, and Jackson and his one full-time employee are going strong with their newfound mission.

To learn more, visit Vibes online.

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