LOWELL -- Behind the pretty ribbon that marked the opening of UMass Lowell's new M2D2 space, scientist Catherine Pujol-Baxley was already hard at work in the lab.
The swanky space inside the 110 Canal building is where she's developing a single-cell protein for fish, a project of the small company called KnipBio.
KnipBio was among the first tenants in the space, an expansion of the Massachusetts Medical Device Development center that opened at Wannalancit Mills in 2007.
"It's a brand-new space and you have all this equipment that you basically cannot find anywhere else," said Pujol-Baxley, KnipBio's director of research and development. "The location is amazing, and then you're very close to facilities such as UMass Lowell so we're going to have some collaborations."
The building is the first sign of life in the deserted Hamilton Canal District, which city officials are working to rejuvenate.
It includes an expansion of its medical space, known as M2D2, where medical-device companies can work in labs and private rooms. Researchers can use shared state-of-the-art equipment, such as autoclaves and fume hoods.
It also includes an Innovation Hub that provides space for startup companies.
The new space is a potentially cheaper option for the M2D2 space at Wannalancit Mills, where tenants have to buy their own equipment.
"What we think is that these companies that are very, very small and have very little money can move in to the upstairs on the fourth floor with very little capital," said M2D2 co-director Steve McCarthy.
"And as they grow eventually they'll have enough resources to move over to the Wannalancit Mills."
"Dial back maybe 15 years ago, this was not an obvious thing to conceive, a vision to have," said Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney.
Officials praised the support from Gov. Charlie Baker's administration, including Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.
"From day one, you could see her excitement when we talked about M2D2, about UMass Lowell's commitment of entrepreneurship and innovation," Moloney said.
"She gets it, she understands Gateway Cities and what we need to do to reinvent ourselves."
Polito stressed Lowell's work as a model for the state.
"What you have right now in Lowell is something that works," she said. "Because you have a university system that partnered with the private sector and the local government and state government to put together a team that really will get things done."
The people of Lowell, she said, never forgot who they are.
"Your strengths always have been around building things, designing things, making things," she said. "And you're still connected very much to your past and who you are."
For the startup company Nonspec, the office space at the Innovation Hub is a vast improvement from co-founder Erin Keaney's apartment.
The company, started by UMass Lowell students, designs adjustable limbs.
Their new small office looks out over the canal and beyond, with City Hall looming in the background.
"We wanted to be in a place that was more professional that we could have business meetings and have everything in one space," said Keaney, now a UMass Lowell graduate student. "We were moving things back and forth from campus to my apartment, and it was just a mess. So now we're centralized."