Tom Jelliffe, founder of Tzuka.

Graduate start-up approaches investment target to launch multi-award-winning durable sports earbuds

A consumer electronics start-up, founded by a Loughborough graduate is close to completing their third investment round to launch what is believed to be the world’s ultimate sports earbuds.

Tom Jelliffe (Geography and Business Management BSc, 2018), founder of Tzuka, has already closed two previous funding rounds, as well as raising over £115k in grants. This has enabled Tzuka to engineer a prototype with never-before-seen durability, achieving a world-first impact (IK) rating for earbuds. In addition to Bluetooth, the earbuds have an on-board audio storage system, with space for 60 hours of music or podcasts. Users can workout without the need for a phone and can even listen whilst underwater.

Of Tzuka’s current investment round, £190k has already been raised, with a target of £240k to enable the earbuds to be launched. Tom has attracted investment from Loughborough alumni and Wilkinson Future – the family-owned investment fund of the well-known high street retailer.

Tom began work on the concept during his final year at Loughborough, after he and a friend broke nine pairs of earphones during a year in the gym. Realising the market was geared primarily towards running, and build quality was poor throughout the price range, Tom set to work designing earbuds that were as tough as any workout.

In four years, working closely with two of the UK’s best design houses, The Manufacturing Technology Centre and Newbury Innovation has brought Tom’s functional prototype to the brink of commercialisation. What makes this achievement even more impressive is that such a start-up with a reliance on global partnerships and sourcing has continued to advance, even during the supply volatility of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.

Tom attributes this success to launching his business Tzuka on LUSEP, the University’s science and enterprise park, as part of LUinc. – the University’s incubator for accelerating the growth of graduates, academic spinouts and external founders with innovative ideas. In addition to a supportive peer community, Tom was able to access the Sports Technology Institute’s leading facilities for competitor testing, 3D printers in engineering labs, with sports performance facilities providing a ‘living lab’ of athletes for consumer testing.

“I’m so proud of what the team has achieved, overcoming the challenges over the past two years” said Tom, who at one point, with all his savings invested in Tzuka, painted the house of an electronic engineer in return for professional advice. He added: “These earbuds are a true Loughborough collaboration with input from the University’s innovation, engineering and sport communities.”

Professor Claudia Eberlein, Loughborough University’s Dean of Science and innovation lead commented: “Tzuka is a great example of how Loughborough supports students throughout their entrepreneurial journey to build sustainable businesses. I wish Tom every success and look forward to Tzuka adding value to the University’s world-class sports cluster to drive innovation and economic growth.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 22/49

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.