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Tim Brownstone: One Sports Injury Away From a Journey to Help Other Athletes

This week’s episode of the One Away Show features notable guest Tim Brownstone. Follow along on YouTube above, or listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. A full transcript is provided below for your convenience.

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“I am never satisfied with merely achieving initial goals and letting that be the end of it. I’m always looking to move forward.”

Tim Brownstone

Transcript – The One Away Show Featuring Tim Brownstone:

BRYAN WISH: What is it you want to share with the audience about your story that has been such a defining experience for you?

TIM BROWNSTONE: When you first asked me if I wanted to come on here, I started thinking about this question. If I’m honest, as I was looking into some of your other guests, I got a little bit of an inferiority complex. I didn’t feel like I necessarily have had that same type of big, transcendent moment. 

When I thought a bit more about it more, though, I realized my One Away moment was a combination of things for me. Growing up, I always had this slight sense of yearning [for those who are listening to this interview right now, I’m air quoting] “to do more.” 

Yet, I never really knew what “doing more” would entail… 

Did I want to be famous?

No, not really. 

Did I want to achieve pretty big things? 

Well, yes, kind of, but…

How did I want to do that? 

Throughout my teenage years, I started getting quite heavily into sports. I ended up sustaining an injury caused by a combination of taking a medication for a chronic disorder and a couple of other things. Long story short, I was a 200-meter sprint when my track career got cut short. 

After that happened, I started looking for a way that I could accelerate my own recovery. I got inspired by this NASA research paper that documented the use of infrared lights in space to make plants grow faster. I wondered if that could help with my own healing.

This discovery led me to contemplate whether I could use this technology to develop a method of healing myself and others. Potential applications for this treatment could include:

  • Wounds
  • Injuries
  • Even chronic medical conditions

Looking back, I think my One Away moment was definitely that discovery. After having that spark of inspiration, I initially went on to pursue an academic career. Eventually, I fell into entrepreneurship, which finally allowed me to put my finger on how to satisfy my lifelong desire of “wanting to do more.”

Entrepreneurship has enabled me to use the work that I’ve been doing to help hundreds, if not thousands of people worldwide. That’s what I really wanted to do. That’s where my heart had been, all along.

BRYAN WISH: So, you had an injury that required you to take a medication that put you into a depressive state. When you realized you weren’t getting better, you asked yourself, “What do I do next? What do I do now? How do I recover?” 

It sounds like reading that NASA paper about a new technology that makes plants grow quicker was kind of your catalyst to realizing, “Maybe I can create something and do something for other people who get injured.” Is that correct?

TIM BROWNSTONE:  Absolutely.

BRYAN WISH: Take us back to when you were depressed. What was that like? Why was it such a down period for you? How did the paper serve as a light of optimism that helped you get yourself out of a tunnel? 

TIM BROWNSTONE: Depression isn’t easy for anybody when they’re going through it, especially when you’re a teenager. As an adolescent, your body is rifled with hormonal changes, as well. 

Back then, I was in a very dark place. I had finally started achieving something in playing sports. The training that came with it brought balance to my life. When that was instantly taken away from me, I really started suffering from the lack of friends or the endorphin kick I’d usually get from the exercise anymore.

All of these factors were exacerbated by the medicine I was taking to treat my chronic illness. One of its known side effects is depression. I got into some very dark places, mentally. I realized I was starting to become someone I really didn’t want to be. I was becoming vindictive. I wasn’t being the kindest person, even though I’ve always considered myself to be a kind individual.

I got to the point where I had to draw the line. I needed to do something about my depression. Getting to that point of desperation pushed me to start looking into what other available options I could try beyond conventional treatments.  Eventually, I found the solution I was looking for in a NASA research paper.

BRYAN WISH: What was it like to read the paper?

TIM BROWNSTONE: As the light was starting to build, I’d originally been looking into magnetism and magnetic therapies. I’ve always been kind of like a biochemist. At that point, I just didn’t have enough research behind it. I was getting quite frustrated. 

Eventually, I started researching infrared technology. I had a bit of a eureka moment that sparked a series of realizations:

A. The topic was something I found interesting.

B. Infrared was space-based technology, and since I’m a big nerd, I loved that.

C. Finally finding something that contained promise gave me some forward momentum. 

I started reading everything I could find about the topic. I learned that it had been proven to increase growth rate in plants and more. 

Pardon the pun, but given that we’re talking about plants here, this discovery planted the seed of an idea in my head. As I researched more, this idea began snowballing and building into new things. 

I think the real beauty for me, back then, was that there was enough evidence to support my idea already that it really catalyzed. I thought to myself, “Well, I wonder if this would have a similar effect on animals – and therefore, human – cells.” Then, I started researching that. 

There was a load of research being conducted at the time by the Japanese. Those researchers were proving that yes, that was the case. I started thinking, “How can I apply that in my situation? What can I do? Could it be wound dressings?” 

Initially, that was the area I kind of pushed for academically. I was theorizing that if you could regrow skin faster in burn victims, for example, you could drastically help them. Expediting skin regrowth would reduce:

  • Pain
  • Risk of infection
  • The strain on the healthcare system that’s providing patients treatment

All these positive outcomes could result from patients needing fewer dressing changes and similar treatments. All of these ideas started tumbling into my head. I really thought this was a goal I could commit myself to seeing my business concept through.

BRYAN WISH:  What did that ultimately lead to?

TIM BROWNSTONE: Ultimately, this research led to where we are now. Currently, we have a portfolio of 98 FDA certified medical devices. These products are out there in the real world, being used to help people. 

That was always my goal. I wanted this research and development to go beyond helping me. I always wanted it to ultimately help others. Our progress has acted as an enabler for additional technologies. 

Now, as a result of our initial success, we’re working on several new projects. We will repeat the same process for each one with the same level of passion. Hopefully, many of these initiatives will work even better to help more people around the world. 

BRYAN WISH: You had your own injury where you went to a dark space. What if there had been more advanced sports technology when that happened to you? 

You have so much passion behind what you’re doing. This isn’t just another sportswear, sports tech, or general sports company. What was the difference that enabled you to apply yourself to a sport where you got hurt, and that passion was ultimately taken away? 

Did you apply the same competitive mindset, focus, and excitement you had for playing sports to something in the entrepreneurial space that you could fully own and create for yourself?

TIM BROWNSTONE: It’s important to note that there was a bit of a transition for me. Playing sports continued throughout my academic career. There were five years in between when I first read that paper NASA and when I actually set up the company. 

If I look at my own team at KYMIRA, most athletes (including ex-athletes) and entrepreneurial types have a very similar mentality. Most of us are competitively driven. We’re always striving for the next goal.

I’m never satisfied with merely achieving initial goals and letting that be the end of it. We’re always looking to move forward. I set up KYMIRA during my last year at a university. I remember there was a time when many of my classmates were all wondering what to do now. 

Personally, I had the company to drive straight into. It was new, interesting, and exciting. I’m very grateful I never had that kind of “What do I do?” moment. 

Throughout the company’s lifespan, starting with that first technology, we’ve now reached maturity. Now, our advancements are being applied in different industries. We’d already started working on what came next. 

The initial excitement we felt has always continued building. Being able to go out there and know that our company is helping people is what gets me out of bed in the morning. For me, it’s all about knowing that we’re helping our customers.

BRYAN WISH: You said you always had a yearning to do a little more. You couldn’t really put your finger on the pulse of what more is. 

Our audience is probably in a similar boat. They know there’s something more out there for them. They know the traditional path isn’t for them, or they want to do something different, but they haven’t been able to identify what that is yet. What would you say to those people? 

TIM BROWNSTONE: The first thing, which is going to be universal for everyone, is working out what your motivation is. For me, it was very mission-driven. It was all about wanting to help people. For others, it might be financially motivated. 

Maybe you just want to create a legacy of something that you can look back on and be proud of. Whatever that motivation is, once you can identify that, everything else becomes so much easier. Figuring out what motivates you doesn’t mean you’ve got a product or a business idea, but it does show you could scratch that itch for innovation or enterprise.

Here’s a piece of advice that I actually was given when I was starting my own company. If you’re a sensible individual, and you’ve had an idea that’s been with you for a while. Whether it’s a matter of months or years, if you just can’t shake a certain idea, then that’s probably going to be a really good starting point for you.

If it wasn’t a good idea, you would have disqualified it yourself already. You’re likely to have discussed it with close friends, family, or whomever else. If you haven’t ruled it out already, maybe that’s the place you can start. 

From that point onwards, there are lots of people, including mutual friends you and I share, who will spend a long time preparing. They’ll read extensively about becoming entrepreneurs and will get perpetually stuck in that middle ground of planning a business concept, rather than actually getting on with and doing it. 

I have always favored listening to other peoples’ podcasts or speaking to friends and colleagues. By learning from their mistakes, I can feel more confident just getting on with the process and learning on my feet as I go.

This approach is partly based on my personality. I think it’s equally important, however, that you don’t get stuck in the mentality of having to prepare everything to Nth degree. If you never start, you’re never going to achieve your dream.

BRYAN WISH: Sometimes, you just have to just throw yourself into the deep end. 

TIM BROWNSTONE: At the time, I’d been looking into this process as an academic. I never intended to start a business based on my research. I was going to do a Ph.D. I had offers from Harvard Med School and King’s College London. There’s like a combined one. That was my path. I was going to be a research scientist.

One day, I woke up and realized that academia wasn’t the right path for me. My motivation stayed the same, but I realized the path I needed to take was slightly different from the one I originally planned to. 

BRYAN WISH:  It sounds like your company is not just another sportswear company. It’s not another Nike or another Adidas. You guys have found a way to differentiate yourselves in the market through the supply and medical side. 

Can you share what went into the process of building sportswear that’s designed to be so protective that people who get injured while wearing it don’t have to seek medical treatment like the medicine you were prescribed that could put someone in a bad place with their mental health? What got you into the process of making something different?

TIM BROWNSTONE: I was a bit forced into it, actually. At the time I decided that I wanted to get this technology out there so it wouldn’t just be stuck in a lab. The necessary regulations, however, weren’t in place yet. 

Since this technology wasn’t medically certified yet, it therefore couldn’t be applied directly as a medical device when we first launched our company. Anyone who has ever looked into trying something similar will know that it’s not cheap to pay for the research required for all the different regulatory processes.

The reason we have KYMIRA Sport as a brand is our original goal to use the technology that we’d developed in the sportswear market. At first, I just wanted to help people like me. Once I got the medical certification in my kind of naïve, early days-entrepreneur brain, I was just going to stop the sports component and focus on the medical aspect.

That didn’t consider the fact that we would be helping sporting individuals. I hadn’t considered the fact that there would be an entire team of people working for KYMIRA Sport. They all had jobs that needed to be maintained. The first step was figuring out how to secure the funding to get our product into the hands of people it’s designed to help.

People often ask, “How do you define yourself as a company?” The thing that really differentiates us is that we call ourselves a smart textiles company. That’s the horizontal we fill. We have specific brands that are sporting- or medical-focused, among other things. 

The thing that really sets us apart from other sports tech companies. There are both sports and tech companies that try to enter the medical market. Our goal has always been succeeding in the medical space. 

If we’re good enough to meet medical standards, then we know we’re good enough for anything below that level. The medical field has the strictest standardization and regulations that exist. 

That principle is built into the very core of our business practice. Having scientific integrity means not making any claims that we can’t justify and validate with clinical research. That’s always been a core principle for us. Our focus is always on the medical side. 

BRYAN WISH: I was on your website, and I saw a graph that explained the process behind the technology. One line explained how the body depletes a lot of oxygen when you work out. If I’m understanding this right, your technology takes the fabric, then pulls that back in and through the infrared technology built into the clothing. 

It’s all about the ability to bring that back into the body, create more oxygen, and reduce waste. If I were to explain this to my friend who is a cyclist, I’d tell her she’s going to have more efficiency in her workouts; is that correct? 

TIM BROWNSTONE: By giving athletes extra gear, you’re increasing their capacity for performance. You can accelerate recovery in between sessions. The important third beneficial outcome is reducing injury risk. 

There’s no point in allowing an athlete to push themselves harder if they’re just going to break faster. Tying this concept back to my personal experience, that third point, namely reduction in injury occurrence, is one of the things that I’m most proud of achieving. We see real results like these within the teams that we work with. 

BRYAN WISH: So many people start and go out and do things that aren’t true to who they are. This is so aligned with your story and it’s really neat to see from the outside looking in.

TIM BROWNSTONE:  Thank you. That’s essential to where we are today. When I first started, I had no sales experience. Rather than giving people a sales pitch, I’d just tell them the truth. I wholeheartedly believed in what I was working on. It was quite easy for me to go out and communicate that. 

I was way too “science-y” when I started. I didn’t communicate in general layman’s terms. I was learning more about how to market our product than to sell it, necessarily. The “selling” part came through from our belief and passion.

These motivations, our belief and our passion, have always been there. If anything, it’s even more pronounced now. It will be even more compelling with the future technologies we’re developing that we’ll see coming out in the next few years. 

BRYAN WISH: What’s been the most rewarding part? Before the show, you said that you were a small team at first, but you had this vision it could become bigger. You mentioned your company is a team of 12 now. 

We’re in the midst of COVID-19. You’re battling through this pandemic, and you’re going to persevere like you always do. What’s the most rewarding aspect of how far you’ve come?

TIM BROWNSTONE: I think you’re already hitting the nail on the head. It’s all about the team. I’m not doing this work alone anymore. I already mentioned how helping our customers means the world to me. Internally, the most rewarding part of this work is having the team that we’ve built out around me. Now, they’re going on to build teams out around themselves. 

Since this is just an audio recording, I’ll note that I’m sitting next to my girlfriend right now. She is very much a partner to me. In fact, during COVID-19, she’s been helping our company out a lot. Those little moments just mean so much to me.

If I was to go back and do everything again with the knowledge I now have, I would find myself a co-founder. It was so lonely and hard during those first 18 months when I was doing it all myself. The people around us are what makes our work meaningful. 

BRYAN WISH: Tell us where we can find you.

TIM BROWNSTONE: I like to think if you’re impressed by what we’re doing now with infrared technology, you’ll be really blown away by what we have coming. Back in 2016 building, we started electronics into fabrics. Our company is now working on a few different strands.

Underpinning it all was a universal technique of embedding the electronics into a fabric or yarn. Despite COVID, at the end of this month, we’re releasing our first off-the-shelf shirt. It features an EKG (or ECG for Europeans) built into the shirt, which is basically a medical-grade heart rate monitor. 

Using this technology in our products means that our customers can get truly medical-grade data. It has a very high resolution so we can detect micro-arrhythmias. That product will then be taken through certification to the end goal of being able to diagnose a heart attack two days before it even happens.  

If our products can achieve early predictions for heart attacks, we can get people into the emergency unit at a hospital beforehand. Therefore, you could prevent such a medical emergency from happening in the first place, or at least manage it. That was product one. 

For our second product, which I’m smiling about already, we transferred one of the technologies we developed to create a sensor ray that can detect internal movements. We’re applying this by creating a top that tracks the movement of a fetus, an unborn child, in the last three months of the pregnancy. 

Evidence shows that if you could detect internal movement prenatally, up to 58% of stillbirths could be completely preventable. Right now, your average mother’s perception is maybe 30-40% accurate. She just detects that those movements are occurring. Based on the latest tests, our system is 93% accurate at not only detecting fetal movement, but also categorizing the type and the force. 

We want our new product to provide early warning signs. The thing that really makes me light up is that right now, our products and technology portfolio quite literally spans more than our customer’s lifetime. We can start working with a customer three months before they’re born. 

We can keep people safe throughout that earliest period of life. Then, we can continue supporting them from when they’re a young baby on, as they move into teenage and adult life. Hopefully, we won’t have to interact with them on the cardiac side. However, we can take care of them at the end of their life, too. 

I wish someone way smarter than me could have invented a technology that would enable me to live long enough to see a full customer’s life with KYMIRA. I’m so excited about this prospect. We have created a 110+ year customer journey. 

Potentially, by the time that someone has gone through their entire life, there’s so much more good that we can enable them to do. There’s an unlimited number of lives we can save. That prospect really excites me. That’s where we’re going with KYMIRA. 

BRYAN WISH: It’s a full life product. You’re building into every phase of someone’s life and building an emotional connection and helping prevent injury and build a healthy lifestyle. You’re doing some really special things. Thanks for the incredible work that you’re doing to help the world. Where can people find you?TIM BROWNSTONE: The best place to find me is www.kymira.co.uk. From there, you can access our research on the medical website, or explore our work further based on wherever you’re interested in learning.

One Away Podcast
Catherine Kushan

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