Boardroom of romance: Couples sharing love and work

We look at three couples who live, work and run innovative businesses together

The Wriggler: James and Aileen McCauley

Can living, working and innovating together really work? Love is in the air this week and we found three couple innovators who tell us just how they handle working in close quarters with their loved ones.

Parents James and Aileen McCauley became a couple who innovate after the birth of their first child. Did you know that parents change a child’s nappy approximately 6,500 times before they are potty-trained?

“The Wriggler is the first portable baby-changing mat designed specifically for babies who wriggle through a nappy change – it can become a real stress and battle both for the baby and the parent. You are trying to keep them still and of course your hands are occupied then, you’ve no hands left to change a nappy, in short, the Wriggler solves this problem,” explains James. “I actually borrowed a sewing machine, taught myself how to sew and between us we researched fabric and materials and I stitched up the first prototype at the kitchen table. We found a solution that brought calm, stress-free changing with our little fella.”


After some research they found that 40 per cent of parents encountered this as a problem so they decided to take the Wriggler from kitchen-table prototype to saleable item. Aileen McCauley says, “I’m an educational psychologist and James is a teacher so we wouldn’t have had loads of business experience so this absolutely wouldn’t be for sale on the market without the staff in LEO.

‘A huge relief’

“It is nerve-wracking when you put it out there especially as we spent so many years getting things right – when you put it out into the world you wonder what the reaction is going to be and it’s been brilliant so far. It’s been a huge relief.”

Working, living and raising a family together seems all-consuming but the McCauleys seem to have found a system that works.

“We both still work part-time. We are both at home with the kids alternate days so we are part-time stay-at-home mum or dad, part-time workers and the rest of the time is spent on the business for whoever is at home during the day once the kids are at playschool and after bedtime,” explains Aileen. “We both know what it’s like doing a hard day’s work. It gives me an empathy for James and I find that it gives the same in return. There is no point scoring between us, no resentment.”

“We’ve actually learned to laugh at each other,” says James. “It makes it easier to work with each other. We make a lot of joint decisions, it’s a joint achievement. It’s nice to be able to share it.”

OMKO software: Dr Katy Wareing and Kieran O’Mahony

A couple who shared a lot of decision-making before they set up business together is husband and wife team Dr Katy Wareing and Kieran O'Mahony. They run a technical software company, OMKO Ltd, from their home in west Cork. "We work with start-ups, SMEs and entrepreneurial individuals and we generally tend to take an idea or a concept to prototype, from prototype to market or we do additional self-contained projects. If you have a technical product online and you want an additional feature we can work with you creating and integrating that additional feature into your product," explains Wareing.

Launching a new website in March, one of their latest projects was working with a company on 3D bio printing in which Wareing had a particular interest. "I have a PhD in biological sciences. I found it intrinsically interesting. We were over in Australia with the clients in November 2018. As a company we integrate with every level of an existing team so, from the on-the-ground biologists to the biochemists to the engineers.

‘Seamlessly dovetail’

“We seamlessly dovetail, we work in partnership – very much a hand-holding journey together – so it’s really important that we can communicate with every level within a team. It’s really interesting – whether it’s renewable energy, physics, data algorithms for back-end systems or something like 3D bio printing.”

The couple had a great run-up to working together, having planned a festival-themed wedding, including a glamping village for their guests, at the same time as building a house. With event planning and build project management on their CVs, they had already worked out their own strengths as a team.

“My husband has a massive amount of experience in software and science, he has an MA in physics also a degree in computer science. In terms of our working relationship, we are quite opposite people. I’m very extrovert, I love networking, I love people, I love Excel spreadsheets, I love accounts and Kieran, he likes getting really involved in challenging concepts and ideas. He will immerse himself for hours of time in something.”

Ancient Origins: Joanna Gillan and Ioannis Syrigos

Joanna Gillan and Ioannis Syrigos certainly led interesting lives before they decided to get married and set up a website business together. Syrigos is a computer engineer from Greece and Gillan studied psychology – she also accidentally ended up working for the royal family in England. Due to the job being advertised anonymously, Gillian had no idea she was applying to work for the royal family. She ended up working in the offices of the young princes and of their father Prince Charles, arranging personal travel, engagements and events.

After the pair got married in Greece, they decided to start a business that would still allow them freedom and flexibility to travel and live in different countries. They both found that ancient history was in their top three lists of interests and that is where, the number-one ancient history website in the world, Ancient Origins began.

"It really started as a personal passion and hobby – it's taking real ancient history discoveries and real archaeological studies but making them interesting for the everyday person. It's assuming no background knowledge. Ancient Origins became our full-time business." Now they work from a home office in Maynooth and employ 30 contractors in 12 different countries around the world.

Technical side

“It’s been fantastic actually. We work alongside each other 24 /7, we are literally working in the same room together all day every day. It definitely works. I think what makes it work is that we each have our own domain. I deal with the content side, the articles and the actual stories that are going up on the site and he deals with the technical side of the website as well as the overall management of the business. We are not stepping on each other’s toes. It also brings its challenges – because of the different time zones we are working at all hours of the day. Sometimes it’s late, he might start up a video Skype business meeting not realising I’m sitting in the background in my pyjamas, plus we have a toddler running around the place. We have to follow procedures and systems or it doesn’t work.”

Now the focus is branching out into new projects. A new monthly digital magazine has just been launched, a contract has been signed to start offering tours to sites around the world and a project involving augmented reality is on the horizon, allowing visitors to see what the sites used to look like as they stand before them.

“We are going into more field explorations and expeditions ourselves. Instead of being stuck behind our computer reporting on other people’s discoveries, we are now getting on the ground and trying to make our own discoveries. For example, my husband is currently in the jungles of Colombia, trying to hunt down some lost carvings of ancient gods that were made in cliff faces in the jungles. There are records of them but no one has ever found them.”