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graph that charts the company’s sales over the past five years. During the most profitable month in the company’s history, which was November 2013, it raised just under $60,000 in revenue. Last month, total revenue was just over $38,000; so far this month, the company had already generated $26,725 by the end of the first week. Though people are usually captivated by Backyard Brains’ products and experiments once they see them—as evidenced by the virality of Gage’s TED talk—a lot more of them need to know about the company in the first place before it can take off.
As part of a strategy to get more exposure, Backyard Brains has dozens of new research projects and potential kits underway, a flurry of grant applications to submit, and ongoing discussions about new collaborations, Gage said. One of these is a partnership with a Harvard University online course, where students taking classes with a lab component will get kits designed by Backyard Brains for use in conducting experiments at home.
“We did a pilot with Harvard last year, and the results were through the roof,” Gage said. “Students were much more confident as a result of having our kits, and their grades were twice as high.”
Backyard Brains is also involved in educational projects associated with the Exploratorium in San Francisco, the Obama administration’s BRAIN initiative, and the National Institutes of Health. Each idea—showing K-12 teachers how to build their own basic lab equipment, recording the neurons of Venus Flytraps and algae, tricking the nervous system of fruit flies with LED lights—seems more fantastic than the next. But a big question is whether such projects will help lead to more business and customers.
“The success we’ve had this month is a blip right now, but we’re blowing up online,” Gage said, admitting that’s he’s a little embarrassed about the new attention because he feels his March TED talk wasn’t his best effort. (In fact, he was only asked to present the night before the event after the previously scheduled speaker had trouble getting a travel visa.) There’s a new sales team in place at Backyard Brains working hard to parlay the TED talk’s popularity into revenue, he said.
Indeed, in addition to the lofty goal of making neuroscience more accessible to the masses, Gage has a more pragmatic objective for the near future: “I’m hoping this year is our breakout year,” he said. “I hope this is the year we become profitable.”