LOWELL — Erin Keaney’s “a-ha” moment came in January 2014 when she traveled to India as a University of Massachusetts Lowell student participating in the university’s Global Entrepreneurship Exchange program. The initiative provides participants with an international perspective and the fundamentals on how to launch a business.
In India, the Groton native saw firsthand there were far more people in need of prosthetic devices than the number she had researched back on campus. The realization led her and her partner, fellow UMass Lowell student Jonathan de Alderete, to redouble their efforts to develop an idea they’d been pursuing: To design and manufacture affordable, adaptable prosthetics for people in need.
Today, Keaney, 29, is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Nonspec, which produces these prosthetics at its headquarters at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub in Lowell.
Last Thursday, she shared stories of growing the company at a campus event that marked Global Women’s Entrepreneurship Week. More than 60 people attended the program, presented by the Jack M. Wilson Center for Entrepreneurship at UMass Lowell’s Manning School of Business.
Keaney got her start with Nonspec through UMass Lowell’s Rist DifferenceMaker Institute student entrepreneurship program. Along the way, the startup has raised $1.5 million in what she called “equity-free” seed money — a distinction important to her because it means she retains control of the company, she said. Through Nonpsec’s network of partners, the prosthetics it produces are now available in Africa, India and the Philippines. New products are on the drawing board, she said.
A “triple River Hawk,” Keaney earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in plastics engineering at UMass Lowell, where she serves as a researcher, faculty member and a mentor in the DifferenceMaker program, helping students on the path to their own success story. She remains energized by Nonspec’s future.
“I still have that question in my mind about how far this thing can go and how many people we can help,” she said.