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Heather Somers' firm continues to expand

By TOM DRURY

Publication: The Day

Published August 06. 2014 4:00AM   Updated August 06. 2014 10:12AM

Recently, I have read several interesting accounts about Hydrofera, LLC, which was started by Tom Rallo, Heather Somers and me in 1997 in Willimantic. Heather is running in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor Aug. 12, so I wanted to take the opportunity to tell a piece of our story.

Hydrofera, LLC was formed from personal savings, guarantees, and private seed capital to develop and market a unique polymer to the healthcare and semi-conductor markets.

Like any entrepreneurial startup we risked our savings, our homes, and our way of life to make the business a success. Under a Republican administration the Connecticut Development Authority saw promise in our business and after reviewing our business plan decided to take an equity position to help us grow and expand in Connecticut.

The long hours and sleepless nights finally showed some promise when we were awarded the Medical Device Excellence Award for 2000, signifying a breakthrough in medical technology. The commercialization of that technology occurred in 2002 and 2003, when we presented our new product Hydrofera Blue Wound Dressings to several hospitals in Connecticut with a simple challenge. "Try the dressing on wounds that they could not heal."

Lawrence + Memorial in New London and William W. Backus in Norwich decided to give us a shot. Both hospitals challenged the dressing against the most difficult chronic and sometimes deadly wounds they were treating. Within two weeks both hospitals reported amazing results. Wounds were healing. As a result, Backus ran a trial and published its results, which were presented at a national wound care conference.

Since then, Hydrofera Blue has brought relief to millions of people worldwide and continues to be a leader, especially in the treatment of chronic wounds. In 2011, wanting to see our product expand to new levels, we decided to sell the company and in July 2012 sold Hydrofera to a multinational healthcare company with the resources to ratchet up the international marketing. Most important, that company agreed to keep Hydrofera in Connecticut.

The CDA approved the sale and received $475,000 for its equity investment. The semi-conductor business had little value so both Hydrofera and the state took a loss on that segment. The state also received tax revenue from the sale that more than covered the CDA's entire investment. We paid a small fine for falling short of our jobs goal but more importantly Hydrofera is still here and expanding in Connecticut with good, quality jobs. Through the years, our business has put millions of dollars into the local economy and continues to do so. We are the largest long-term tenant in the Windham Mills Complex.

Politicians and insiders might try to distort this story for their own political gain. I don't believe anyone could agree when they understand dozens of people are still employed in one of the most distressed parts of Connecticut in a specialized industry with a company that now is expanding. Any politician who supports a business-friendly Connecticut shouldn't be trying to slime a business that is still here and expanding here for cheap political points. Those are the facts, but who we are can best be summed up by an event that took place almost 11 years ago.

At 5:30 on a Friday afternoon in the summer of 2003 I received a call from a grief-stricken father explaining that he was just informed that his 3-year-old daughter had unhealable wounds and was scheduled to have her legs amputated. He heard about Hydrofera Blue and wondered if we could help. We immediately went to work. Heather contacted the clinical team at Backus, I called FedEx to see if we could get a pickup and Tom went into the plant to gather up product to ship out. The plan took form as the team at Backus agreed to direct the treatment and our FedEx driver turned around to pick up our shipment, even though he was just 10 minutes from his Windsor Locks drop.

A week later the father called with news that his little girl's legs were healing and the amputations were called off. A few years later the family, from California, visited Willimantic to thank all the people at Hydrofera for "saving their daughter".

Over the years we had several similar stories, but it was that moment, when a company and a community came together to affect the life of a child, that reminds us why we do what we do and why Connecticut needs more business people like Heather Somers in office who have seen the miracles that come from small business.

Tom Drury is founder and chief operating officer of Hydrofera, LLC.

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