Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Sara Burdak has over 20 years of leadership experience in audiology, manufacturing, research and development, as well as education and training. She joined Starkey Hearing Technologies as an audiologist on the Hearing Research and Technology team in 1999. She’s worked to bring impactful programs to their global customer base and is responsible for developing and aligning Starkey’s global audiology strategy as it relates to education and training programs, the Department of Veterans Affairs and customer and industry relations. In addition, she supports audiology student initiatives and is passionate about the future of the profession. She earned her bachelor's degree in audiology and speech sciences from Michigan State University, her master's degree in audiology from Wayne State University and Au.D. from the Arizona School of Health Sciences.
Sara, what is the idea behind Starkey Hearing Technologies?
Everything we do at Starkey Hearing Technologies we do with purpose, that is why most people get into Audiology and why people come to work at Starkey specifically. We work on amazing, caring technology every day, beyond just technology for the sake of a “better” device or a first- to-market advancement. We want to make a difference in this highly technical space. We want people all over the world to live a better life and to be more engaged and connected with the people and things they love.
When did you start and do you have other members in your team?
My current position came to life as my career evolved, but I’ve always aspired to keep learning in my profession and to ensure I was providing real value to an organization. Back when we were much smaller, I began my career in research and development. In that space we started from product development to running clinical trials, creating marketing materials and finally training our customer-facing teams on the technology. I wore many hats, and still do, but I had a passion for training. It was very important, as our products became more advanced, to focus our teaching on providing the best possible outcome for our patients. At that time, we didn’t have an Education and Training Department, and I recognized the need. To be successful and to be a key contributor, you have to continue to find gaps and remedy them with a long-term outlook. I now oversee a global Education and Training team that trains several thousand hearing healthcare professionals on an annual basis.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Our biggest obstacle and opportunity has always been, and will continue to be, our mission of serving our customers better than anyone else. That’s at our core and what our daily work is all about. We have team members all over the world with the same mission of serving our customers better than anyone else on a global scale. It is a challenge to replicate that experience consistently, but it is also an opportunity to truly be unique. The way we make people feel after a training experience with us is incredibly important. We are the only American-owned and operated hearing aid manufacturer, but we are also a global organization—we have 26+ facilities all striving towards the same mission and goal.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
The challenge is the misconception that women in general are not tech savvy or cannot be entrepreneurs in this space. We need to be advocates for one another, be bold, and showcase this strength. We also need to speak up professionally and be able to have candid, productive conversations. It’s such an exciting time because there is an evolution taking place. To that end, we are seeing more female leaders, private practice owners, and entrepreneurs in Audiology than ever.
What are your projects you are currently working on? Are you a supporter of #WomenInTech movement and if yes, why?
Absolutely, a huge piece of what my team does is positioning audiology students for success through education. We train over 12,000 professionals, just in the United States, each year on highly technical, wearable items in the healthcare space. It all comes full circle to the mission of serving our customers better than anyone else.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all founders and entrepreneurs out there?
You have to be able to prioritize.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and AI industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
We have been paying attention to the tech space for many years, which has been a major component of our success. Right now, we need to be very mindful of two themes that are repeatedly highlighted at industry-leading events such as CES— voice technology and the caregiver space for the ageing population.
People need accessibility and mobility. It’s not just about living longer; it’s about living better. Our latest hearing aids, Livio® AI, have fall alert and detection, intuitive tap gestures and advancements like the Thrive™ assistant. How amazing is it that we have two advancements within Livio AI that are proven to reduce cognitive decline by as much as 75 percent? One is hearing and the other is social engagement—Livio AI measures hours of daily use and active listening and lets the wearer know how well they are doing through a cognitive or brain score. We are being very purposeful on what technology we integrate into a hearing aid—which is now a multi-purpose device. Consumers, or in our case, patients, expect so much more from their wearable devices, and they can—and they should.
Who are your inspirational people / businesses in tech?
Randy Zuckerberg, in my opinion, is one of the most inspirational women in tech. She does an amazing job taking a very complicated topic and making it understandable, even accessible. I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to meet her, and she gave my daughter her book, Dot. I am in awe of women who support women—I strive to be accessible, to be a coach and to be a mentor to the amazing women in this field.
LinkedIn: Sara Burdak
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.