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UMass Lowell technology center wins $150G grant

By From the Lowell Sun

By Rick Heller, Sun Correspondent

LOWELL -- A UMass Lowell technology center received a $150,000 grant for an incubator to help entrepreneurs turn ideas for medical devices into prototypes that attract investors.

The grant was awarded by the John Adams Innovation Institute to the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center.

The center, known as M2D2, is a collaboration between UMass Lowell and UMass Medical School in Worcester, taking advantage of the Lowell campus' engineering expertise and the Worcester campus' knowledge of clinical research.

UMass Lowell Professor Stephen McCarthy, co-director of the center, said the grant will be used to prove that the concept is workable.

"This is really just a pilot program," he said. "We really expect to grow this."

He said the long-term goal is to secure $20 million in funding over five years, and be self-supporting thereafter, while shepherding 10 new companies a year to the point where they attract venture capital.

The John Adams Institute is an arm of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a quasi-public state economic development agency.

The announcement came at a meeting of more than 100 business executives at the Merrimack Valley Venture Forum, held at the Wannalancit Mills.

Hooks Johnston, a retired medical devices company executive who chairs the M2D2 steering committee, told the audience that Massachusetts hosts the second-most concentrated cluster of medical device companies in the world, after Minnesota.

He said most of these companies are located in the Merrimack Valley, Worcester and Cambridge areas.

Johnston said that while medical device companies employ 25,000 people in Massachusetts, employment has dipped in the last two years, in part because venture capitalists are reluctant to fund startups.

"The little guys aren't getting funding," he said. "Our hope on M2D2 is to fill the early-stage void."

State Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, D-Lowell, and state Rep. Tom Golden, D-Lowell, were on hand for the announcement.

Panagiotakos said that the Massachusetts technology sector has been hit hard by global competition. "The state has to get proactive in economic development and help seed innovation and technology," he said.

Golden said that he looked forward to an expansion of the incubator project. "It's my hope that one, the technology stays and, two, jobs are to follow," he said.