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But while Edison's inventions formed the foundation of a major corporation, General Electric, Kurzweil's current ventures, which had sales of $10 million last year, are not yet profitable. Demand for his products has been limited because their prices are so high. Although the Kurzweil Reading Machine is available at many large libraries and institutions, few blind people can afford the $21,000 price tag. Similarly, the $10,000 to $17,000 Kurzweil 250 synthesizer is beyond the means of typical musicians.
Nonetheless, Kurzweil's technologies are so promising that he has no trouble getting the capital to stay in business. Last year he raised $9 million with his first public stock offering. In addition, Xerox and Wang Laboratories have invested $6.5 million in his company.
Kurzweil hopes that the VoiceWriter will be his first commercial smash hit. But he admits that he will have to trim prices and become a savvier marketee. To help him, he has recruited two top managers from the rival firms Digital Equipment and Prime Computer. His biggest challenge, of course, will be to stay ahead of the Goliaths of the com puter industry. "We're in a race," says Kurzweil. "We're now a company to beat." Tell that to the computer and see what happens.