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LESSONS FROM A FOUNDER: When It Runs in the Family - Starting a Business with Your Brother

last modified Apr 26, 2019 11:03 AM
This month, in recognition of National Siblings Day, here’s the story of ideaSpace City members, Smart Acoustics, a team of two brothers who are taking on the world of ultrasound for the best of reasons.

They say it runs in the family – and for the Gomersalls it’s entrepreneurship. With a father who set up numerous businesses both brothers’ early exposure to entrepreneurism gave them a sense that risk was ok – it wasn’t something to be scared of. In fact, it’s become something they both embrace. 

Henry and Toby are founders of Smart Acoustics, a company which has developed a small and lightweight ultrasound machine which is power efficient, cheap and portable. By applying modern signal processing techniques to acoustical imaging they have come up with a product which has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of current ultrasound machines and the reliance on expensive hardware.  

Henry started toying with the idea of entrepreneurship after completing his PhD in Engineering at Cambridge, when he saw there was real value in solving problems and carrying that through to make a positive impact on peoples’ lives – and as a visiting professor challenged him - if he didn’t, who would?  

“It was definitely a step away from my original career choice of communications, but as my father says, if it’s fulfilling, you become interested in what you do.”  

In 2015, after graduating from Durham with a Masters of Engineering and a three year stint at a cryptography company, Toby joined his brother’s start-up as co-founder. Smart Acoustics became a team of two and suddenly the company had far more man hours to dedicate to the cause.

 

The pair bring different strengths to the company and have found a unique way of working together. Henry says, “While I get distracted and have this habit of filling in all the rabbit holes, Toby keeps me on track. He can be straight up with me, and I guess keep me focused in a way that another colleague couldn’t.”  

However, Toby sees the value in his brother’s approach, “He may become side-tracked but often it’s by filling in those rabbit holes that you learn things and build up your expertise. He’s also good at making connections between disparate fields”

 

But the relationship allows them to make a deeper connection with their work. When asked what’s the best thing about working with your brother, Henry replies, “That you can trust each other. You can be honest. But by far the most important thing is that we share the same values – we already intuitively agree on so many things that there is already a common ground from which to start.” And Toby resolutely agrees. 

 

Is there a downside? They both agree it’s not always plain sailing and that on the odd occasion, working together isn’t always conducive to a good personal relationship. Toby explains, “This role is all consuming during the working week so I’m not looking for that to continue into my down time”. Henry, however, likes to bounce ideas around at family get togethers, especially with his Dad. 

This is balanced by the remarkable observation Henry makes about working with a sibling. “It’s more apparent to us as to what the causes of conflict might be, which in turn allows you to manage yourself better. Even though, as Toby explains, “You have this nuclear option as siblings, you need to keep it in check. You don’t want to irreversibly damage the relationship.” Both conclude that working together has made them better people and also better at understanding others.

 

So what’s the goal for Smart Acoustics? Both brother’s motivations are impressively selfless. “Our goal isn’t to run a big company and make money, but to solve real world problems. As Engineers, research isn’t enough, we have a moral obligation to make technology that is useful to people.” 

 

If you are interested in finding out more about Smart Acoustic’s journey you can visit their website  or contact them .

If you would like to find out more about ideaSpace membership please email  and you can follow us on Twitter @ideaSpace

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