By David Perry
Although his company has moved to new headquarters, Mouli Ramani still keeps a desk at UMass Lowell’s Innovation Hub at 110 Canal St.
“I save that one seat so I can go back and keep in touch,” says Ramani, a veteran business executive and current president and CEO of Horsepower Technologies Inc. “Too much good happens there to leave altogether.”
Leaving the iHub Oct. 1, Horsepower and Ramani headed for the fifth floor of Wannalancit Mills on Cabot Street. The space in the former mill is large and spacious and offers room to grow.
As if to play off the function of the business, one of the walls is covered in barn wood. It’s the perfect look for Horsepower Technologies, which is pioneering rehabilitative orthotic devices for horses.
The company is part of the budding high-tech startup community in Lowell and is freshly hatched from UMass Lowell’s shared business incubation space. It is the second company to “graduate” from the iHub; the other is stitchDX, a digital marketing firm that moved up and out to 116 John St. in Lowell.
Horsepower launched its FastTrack equine orthotic three months ago, selling the brace to high-end veterinarians. The customizable brace is designed to limit strain on injured horses. It aids recovery and reduces the risk of reinjury to tendon and ligaments in the lower limbs of horses, which must carry hundreds of pounds.
The idea came from company founder Wendy Drumm, whose horse had to be put down because of lameness. She was moved to help other horses – and owners -- not suffer the same fate and heartbreak.
“When I go to Kentucky, to Florida, the racehorse centers, I’m always asked, ‘Why Boston? Why Massachusetts?’” says Ramani. “And the answer is that we thought about the problem differently up here.”
Adapting Medical Device Technology
It was not technology looking for a problem to fit; it was technology designed to solve a problem in the multibillion-dollar equine industry. And he adapted existing medical device technology to do it.
Horsepower’s early prototypes were made in the iHub’s makerspace. What would become its marketing company, ToMo360, was just down the hall. Ramani says that with a hive of small startups on a single, 11,000-square-foot floor, collaboration came easy.
“And it’s all about collaboration.”
“What happens when you get here is you’re connected to the entire UMass Lowell community.”
-Entrepreneur Mouli Ramani about the iHub
A serial entrepreneur, Ramani was drawn to the iHub in December 2015, when he rented the office as a way to connect with others in the startup community.
“Initially, as an entrepreneur, I needed an office, a place to hang my shingle, and I had no desire to go to Cambridge or North Station. And I can’t work from home. I had done Harvard and MIT and I thought, ‘Lowell … there’s got to be good tech there at UMass Lowell, too.’”
Before long, he was running Horsepower. “What happens when you get here is you’re connected to the entire UMass Lowell community,” he says. “It all loops in together. It is palpable that people here want you to be successful.”
Home for UML Resources
Resources, from the Fabric Discovery Center to the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) lab located upstairs, offered a wide variety of expertise, says Ramani.
Now, with the move behind it, the nine-person company is getting ready to embark on a second round of financing. The first round brought in $5 million. One of the initial investors was the River Hawk New Venture Fund, overseen by Nancy Saucier, UML’s executive director of commercialization and New Ventures and manager of the River Hawk Venture Fund.
“Nancy literally walked past our office and noticed what we were doing,” says Ramani. “And that’s another example of the value of the iHub. Things like that happen.”
“In every way, Mouli and the team at Horsepower epitomize the entrepreneurial community stewardship setting Lowell apart from other communities that are attempting to gain ground through startup activity,” says Saucier.
She says Ramani’s smart decision in launching and keeping his company in Lowell allowed the New Venture Fund to make a smart investment for the university.
Horsepower’s progression out of the iHub is the intended trajectory for its tenants, said Thomas O’Donnell, director of the iHub.
“As a startup incubator, our primary goal is to support our member startup companies as they form, grow and eventually graduate from the iHub to a larger external space in Lowell or beyond,” said O’Donnell. “The transition allows them to accelerate growth, hiring and market impact. That’s our core mission, and it contributes to the greater regional economic impact. It’s happening, and that speaks to the success of what we offer.”
Both companies that have “graduated,” as O’Donnell puts it, have stayed in Lowell and help to enrich the city’s business fabric.
Ramani also praises the talent pool in Lowell.
“It’s not hard to get good people here, and this is increasingly where people want to be.”