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On Shark Tank: The MN inventor whose earplugs don't ruin concerts

Rupturing his eardrums during a loud concert inspired Jackson Mann to invent a solution for music lovers.
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Standing next to a speaker at a concert led to a ruptured ear drum for Jackson Mann, but also the inspiration for a new invention that will be shown on Shark Tank this week.

It was that concert experience in 2014 that prompted Mann to create Vibes – designed to reduce loud noises, without sacrifice the sound's quality. And the Minneapolis entrepreneur goes before the sharks in an episode Friday night on ABC, as he tries to get them to invest in his Vibes Hi-Fi Earplugs.

"Being a frequent concertgoer, I wanted to make sure that [rupturing my eardrum] didn’t happen again," he told GoMN. "So I looked for a solution and like most people grabbed a pair of foam earplugs. After putting them in, I instantly realized they destroyed the sound quality and are not designed for music."

"So why have they been the go-to ear protection at concerts for decades?" he thought, and began researching. He realized there are few, if any, products available that protect the ears without spoiling the enjoyment of live events.

How do the Vibes work?

Vibes Hi-Fi Earplugs can be bought from the Vibes website for $23.99. Each set comes with three different sizes of reusable ear tips, and is placed in a pocket-sized carrying case.

With white buds and an outer transparent sound tube, the earplugs are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible (unlike your typical, fluorescent earplugs). Mann believes the technology inside really makes them stand out.

"Unlike foam earplugs, Vibes filter acoustics, lowering decibel levels relatively equally from bass to treble," he explained. It's done through a special sound tube and "sound-enhancing acoustic filters" that he says "balance and modify the sound waves properly." They'll work at concerts, sporting events, festivals, or any other loud environment.

They may be small, but Mann has lofty ambitions for his product. He hopes to "save the hearing health" of hundreds of millions of people around the world who attend noisy live events. What's more, a percentage of each Vibes sold goes to the Hear The World Foundation to provide hearing aids and surgery to those in need.

Meeting the sharks

With only two full-time employees and an intern working at the Vibes office in downtown Minneapolis' Coco building, the company is the very definition of a start-up.

The earplugs, for which Mann has design and utility U.S. patents pending, are currently sold in about 50 retail locations and at various venues, arenas, music festivals and events.

Mann said they'd only been in business for around four months and he wasn't planning on applying for the show. But someone who works for Shark Tank actually contacted him first.

Now, with the help of the impossibly wealthy sharks on the popular TV show, interest in the company could be about to explode.

He can't go into too much detail about what happens, but admits being in front of sharks – including the billionaire Mark Cuban and retail magnate Lori Greinier – was "a very high pressure situation."

"No notes, no slides, no pleasantries, cameras are on, they know nothing about you before you walk in," he said. "It’s lights, camera, action and you have one shot. Something people don’t realize is although it gets edited down to a seven-minute segment, you’re in front of the sharks for much longer, in my case it was around an hour."

You can catch Jackson Mann's appearance on Shark Tank at 8 p.m. CST on ABC this Friday.

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