Headphone Company Creates Pennsylvania Jobs Using EXIM Export Credit Insurance

July 19, 2019

(Ex-Im Bank) Washington, D.C. – An entrepreneurial couple from Pennsylvania grew their small business from a kitchen-table operation into an award-winning company with 27 employees whose jobs are supported by international sales backed by the export credit insurance of Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM).

In 2007, Dr. Wei-Shin Lai, a family physician, and her husband, Jason Wolfe, a video game developer, founded AcousticSheep LLC, a small business in Erie, Pennsylvania, that manufactures comfortable headphones designed for sleeping and running. International sales have grown about 15 percent each year, and the company now exports its products to 16 countries.

To draw attention to the White House’s Made in America Week, EXIM is showcasing companies such as AcousticSheep, whose success in exporting illustrates how American businesses, both small and large, contribute to U.S. economic prosperity by sustaining and creating jobs in the United States.

Dr. Lai came up with the idea for AcousticSheep’s headphones when she found that she wasn’t sleeping because of late-night phone calls from patients. Struggling to fall back to sleep, Dr. Lai would listen to meditative music to help her relax but couldn’t find comfortable headphones to sleep in. She decided to invent the product she needed by embedding thin headphones into soft fabric, similar to a headband, which she found more comfortable than regular headphones for sleeping and traveling. Dr. Lai describes the product as “pajamas for your ears.” The success of SleepPhones® was followed by RunPhones®, which are made of a moisture-wicking fabric to make them suitable for exercising.

As AcousticSheep grew, the company began selling its products overseas but experienced difficulty when customers defaulted on payments. In 2017, AcousticSheep turned to EXIM and now uses the agency’s short-term export credit insurance for protection against the risk of nonpayment of foreign receivables. EXIM’s insurance has enabled the company to continue increasing its exports, which today account for about 25 percent of its sales.

“We want our international customers to feel like we are partners, with a good deal of trust,” said Dr. Lai, AcousticSheep’s CEO. “Part of that is being able to extend credit terms. Plus, to grow, we need to sign on new partners. EXIM gives us confidence to try new countries.”

With EXIM’s support, AcousticSheep has expanded into new markets and increased export sales. Since 2017, EXIM has insured nearly $95,000 of the company’s exports.

The Consumer Technology Association has honored AcousticSheep as the Small Business of the Year, and the Small Business Administration has named Dr. Lai Pennsylvania Small Business Person of the Year.

“EXIM Bank has helped increase our confidence in working with distributors in countries we may not have previously considered,” said Dr. Lai. “We plan on using the agency indefinitely.”

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