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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Helping amputees overcome obstacles keeps Matt Albuquerque of Next Step motivated

NH Entrepreneur of the Year

By MIKE COTE
June 16. 2018 10:37PM
Double amputees Ron Currier of Strafford, left, and Chuck Hildreth of Gilford give a demonstratiion of their Luke arms with Matt Albuquerque, president and founder of Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics, during a demonstration at Fratello's in Manchester in February. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)



Matt Albuquerque never struggles with job satisfaction. The New Hampshire High Tech Council's Entrepreneur of the Year says he's one of the luckiest guys you'll ever meet.

"I get to help people who face some sort of limitation or physical challenge," the founder and president of Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics said Wednesday night while accepting his award at the DoubleTree Hotel in Nashua.

It's the kind of help that enabled an Air Force veteran who lost both his hands more than 40 years ago to hold things again. And a young athlete who lost one of her legs to score another goal for her college lacrosse team.

Albuquerque said he always knew he wanted to work in a profession where he could help others. "I felt blessed once I started fitting and designing artificial limbs for people," he said.

About a decade into his career, the certified prosthetist decided he needed to set up his own company to provide the kind of service he envisioned.

"Because of the great, very connected one-degree of separation state of New Hampshire that we live in, I was able to put a team together of varied professionals, and I launched Next Step in August of 1996," Albuquerque said. "There were many challenges I faced weaving through those times. Knowing we were helping people was the fuel to help me through that, and that continues to this very day."

Muji Karim, former University of New Hampshire football captain and bilateral amputee, talks about the fit of his prosthetics with Matt Albuquerque, president, Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics, at Arms Park in Manchester in 2015. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

Next Step has 32 employees spread among three amputee care centers - in Manchester, Warwick, R.I., and Newton, Mass. The company moved its headquarters into the Manchester Millyard in 2002, where its neighbors include DEKA, the research and development company headed by inventor Dean Kamen.

For the past 10 years, Albuquerque has worked with Kamen on the development of the Luke Arm, a prosthetic limb made with aluminum, plastic and carbon fiber and fitted with electrodes that allow the user to control movement.

"Because of my involvement in that project, I was able to listen to my friend, Ron, who's an Air Force veteran, and who was the first person to receive two Luke Arms. He lost both of his hands in an electrical accident," Albuquerque said.

Ron Currier, who lives in Strafford, was one of two people fitted with the arms who demonstrated what they could do with their new limbs at an event in February. The two Luke Arms for Currier will cost the Veterans Administration about $300,000.

Albuquerque remembers the day Next Step first fitted Currier with the arms. It was late in the afternoon after most of the people in the company had gone home, and he was with Currier in one of the fitting rooms.

Matt Albuquerque is proud of the success of Next Step client Noelle Lambert of Londonderry, a lacrosse player for UMass-Lowell who lost her left leg in a 2016 accident. She returned to the field for the River Hawks this spring. (COURTESY UMASS LOWELL)

"I asked him how he was feeling. He said, 'I feel like I'm starting to get my hands back.' Can you imagine how lucky I am to be part of an experience like that?" Albuquerque said.

More recently, Albuquerque was able to celebrate the success of Noelle Lambert, a UMass-Lowell student-athlete from Londonderry who lost her left leg in a moped accident in 2016. In April, Albuquerque got to see Lambert score her first goal on her return to Lowell's women's lacrosse team wearing her blade-style prosthetic leg.

"I got to witness that," Albuquerque said. "I got to think that even by playing such a small part in that, what a wonderful profession to be involved with and how lucky I am to be in it. This is part of what has allowed me to be a successful entrepreneur."

Albuquerque credited his parents for the work ethic they instilled in him and thanked his Next Step colleagues, asking those who attended Wednesday's event to stand up and be recognized.

Matt Benson, who chaired the committee that reviewed the Entrepreneur of the Year candidates, said the judges consider risk, innovation, growth, competition, profitability, employment, a New Hampshire-based presence - and an "extra-factor" that is hard to define.

"We had an unbelievable group of applicants this year. Some very strong entrepreneurs, some great companies," Benson said while introducing Albuquerque.

"I just think it shows the vibrancy of New Hampshire's entrepreneurial ecosystem. But there was one who really rose to the top, who really embodied everything we were looking for in a New Hampshire entrepreneur."

Contact Business Editor Mike Cote at 206-7724 or mcote@unionleader.com.

Matt Albuquerque, right, founder and president of Next Step Bionics and Prosthetics Inc., talks with Matthew Benson during the New Hampshire High Tech Council's Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)


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