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Backyard Brains

Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Greg Gage

Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo never planned on building a multi-national business, but that’s exactly what they did with Backyard Brains.

The two neuroscientists originally wanted to make a hobby business around their fascination with teaching others how the brain works. Backyard Brains began making cheap kits than can show grade-school students how the brain works in real time using roaches and simple electronics. The original Spiker Box allowed students to measure the brain waves of insects.

The first couple of years consisted of Gage and Marzullo putting the products together in their time off from their teaching jobs. They originally had visions of selling dozens to classrooms across America. The reality proved to be orders of one or two or a handful. They they got their first international order from an English-speaking school South Korea in 2010 asking for 30 units.

"It was actually the biggest order we ever had," Gage says. He adds back then he was putting the kits together in his basement so it opened up the company's eyes in a number of ways, ranging from market reach to production capability.

Not long after the first international order, Marzullo and Gage heard from a friend about Start-up Chile, a program sponsored by the Chilean government to recruit more startups to the South American county back in 2012. Backyard Brains got involved in the program early and turned the opportunity into a foothold in the Chilean market soon after. The program turned out to be successful for both sides.

"I get emails all the time from the likes of Start-up Brazil," Gage says. "They're all mimicking the Chilean program."

Backyard Brains now has a satellite offices in Chile, which covers most of its South American sales. The company now has a staff of six employees and is selling its products around the world. "We're in about 60 countries around the globe," Gage says.

And this growth comes from little marketing efforts besides free online efforts, word of mouth and a well-received TED talk Gage gave on expanding internationally.

"The international sales were well ahead of what we thought we were going to do," Gage says. The consist of nearly half of the company’s orders and often make up the largest bulk orders.

"All of our stuff is translated into two languages, Spanish and English," Gage says.

- Written by Jon Zemke

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