From factory mills to medical-device and technology startups, the University of Massachusetts Lowell is striving to expand the startup ecosystem in Massachusetts beyond Cambridge and Boston.
Tuesday morning, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, business leaders, and top officials from the UMass system attended the opening ceremony of the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub and expansion of the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2).
The iHub, an incubator for technology startups, is a collaboration between UMass Lowell and Trinity Financial Services. iHub is modeled after M2D2, which opened in 2007 for medical-device startups.
The UMass project cost $7.8 million, including a $4 million Massachusetts Life Sciences Center grant to cover the M2D2 expansion, $1 million to build the iHub, and $2.8 million from UMass Lowell to cover five years of operational costs.
“You can basically feel the sweat of the people who many years ago worked in these mills,” Polito said from the Innovation Hub space in a video posted to Twitter. “Then, you look at the walls and the floor and all the finishes of today that really truly brings together a connection point in the city.”
The 170 attendees, according to Steven Tello, UMass Lowell’s associate vice chancellor for entrepreneurship and economic development, were taken on a tour of both the iHub and M2D2 spaces, including the prototype lab, biotechnology lab, and private and public offices. The presenters spoke in the iHub space and the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on the M2D2 floor.
Tello attributes the growth of startups in Lowell to UMass president Marty Meehan and Polito because they understand the root of economic development and the legacy of the Lowell.
By forming relationships with the startup communities in Cambridge and Boston, UMass Lowell has been able to attract more startups to the Merrimack Valley. The iHub has joined the Workbar network, which offers co-working space in Cambridge, Boston, and Somerville. Members of the iHub will have access to Workbar facilities, and Workbar members gain temporary work space in the iHub.
UMass Lowell manages the iHub and offers networking events to assist the entrepreneurs with the growth of their ventures. Officially opened in June, eight companies currently occupy iHub; the goal is to have 20 to 30 startups, each with two- to three-person teams, Tello said.
M2D2, a joint effort between UMass Lowell and Worcester campuses, has been located in the Wannalancit Business Center since 2011 and currently houses 15 companies. The expansion to a second location creates space for an additional 20 to 30 startups, Tello said.
Four companies moved in to the new M2D2 space in June; four more startups are going through the approval process. The researchers have access to offerings from UMass Lowell and the UMass Medical School. More than 100 companies have worked out of M2D2, raising approximately $58 million in external funding, UMass Lowell said. InfoBionic and MedicaMetrix are two of the most successful companies out of M2D2, Tello said.
“We put in a lot of effort in recruiting startups outside of the university to bring them into this region,” he said. “It was a challenge in the early days. They knew of the technical capabilities of the university, but it was challenging to get investors” to come out to Lowell.
Once outside the Boston area, however, “they realize there’s a lot going on here,” Tello said.