Arguably the hardest-working man in Long Island innovation, former New York State Assemblyman Marc Alessi enjoys a singular socioeconomic viewpoint. The entrepreneur and champion of 5G connectivity has had a productive year as both executive director of the Business Incubator Association of New York State and executive director of Shoreham’s Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, all while leading his 2014 advanced-scanning startup SynchroPET to the edge of commercialization and chairing Campolo, Middleton & McCormick’s Economic Development Practice Group. The innovation buffet keeps the forward-thinker on the front lines – but his marquee moment may be 2018’s “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween,” a big-screen sequel featuring characters based on the Alessi family. The father, fundraiser and industrious innovator takes a breath to share his unique perspectives:
Open house: We’re hiring our architect and engineering firm and filing for permits this year to begin the next stage of construction at the Tesla Science Center – destruction, actually, then reconstruction. First, we’ll file the permits for our Visitor Center, which involves rehabilitating an old house on the site, the easiest to open to the public.
Lab work: We’re doing a full site plan with the county and the DEC and that’s going to take more time. Depending on how long that process takes, we can start taking down the buildings that need to come down and concentrate on shoring up the laboratory. We’re very anxious to raise all the capital we need to complete the project, but we have enough on hand to get started. We need to raise at least another $10 million to complete the lab building.
Big-name backers: We’ve raised a total of $7 million on a $20 million capital campaign. At least half of that has come from the innovation ecosystem, some from the local ecosystem, including Eugene Sayan, the CEO of Softheon, who’s a major benefactor. Elon Musk was another benefactor with a seven-figure gift, and we got a million-dollar commitment from a venture capitalist out of Princeton.
Spread the word: The Tesla center has an exhibit in a 5,000-square-foot loft in the Jack London District in Oakland, where we’ve done a number of VIP events. We’ve held events for Tesla Motors and we’re planning a series of events for Google employees. The purpose is to raise awareness of what we’re doing at Wardenclyffe in different tech hotbeds, where a good part of our support comes from. Another example was the South by Southwest Conference in March; we went down and now a number of those folks are contributors and advisors.
A-list advisors: We have an incredible group of advisors. We have venture capitalist Greg Olsen, the founder of GHO Ventures, and Vin Cerf, the inventor of the Internet and one of the most amazing people ever. And there’s John Cohn, an MIT professor who heads up artificial intelligence at IBM, and Joe Campolo, who’s really helped us raise capital.
Adding muscle: Having advisors like these, and Peter Klein of the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation and Richard Moxley from Blackbird Technologies, adds credibility to the project. When folks of this substance add their name, people know it’s going to happen and they invest. We need to continue to get people in this demographic interested, and having a board with connections to Silicon Valley executives at the highest levels really helps.
Incubating the Incubator Association: We’ve grown a great deal over the last two years. Our membership is now a little over 90 business accelerators and incubators across the state. Our annual meeting in Syracuse has now grown to a two-day conference (June 10 and 11) because of all the additional programming.
Techstars tutorial: We’ll be talking to incubator managers (at the conference) about mentorship and preparing their companies to pitch early-stage investors – what investors are looking for this year, in terms of technologies and trends. And a number of our upstate accelerators have become Techstars chapters, so we’ll be talking to the larger membership about that mentorship methodology.
Welcome to New York: The next program the Incubator Association will be bringing forward is a “soft landings” program. We get contacted often by foreign economic-development offices with startups that want to do business in New York State, and need help navigating. We’re going to create a curriculum for incoming companies that will match them with our accelerators and incubators and get them the opportunities they need to do business in New York.
SynchroPET your watches: We’re ending the beta process for our preclinical small-animal devices and moving those to commercial sales this year. We have our first human data coming from Cornell University and we’re in the process of setting up our (human trial) beta site.
Anticipating approvals: That next beta site is a big milestone for us – our noninvasive arterial PET scanner has created a lot of interest in the industry. We can sell it for research purposes to R&D companies, but in order to sell it to hospitals, we have to go through the FDA 510(K) process, and we’re planning for that now.
Serious series: SynchroPET is also looking to raise our Series A by the end of the summer. We’re looking to raise $2 million to $3 million, which will help us get through our first commercial sales and get us through the FDA process once the arterial PET scanner comes out of beta.
Opportunity knocks: The whole “Goosebumps” thing has been pretty surreal. My two young boys caught my entrepreneurial bug and went knocking on doors on our street, offering to move garbage cans up and down driveways for $2 a week. They knocked on my neighbor’s door, and he’s a screenwriter and film writer who was working on this script and had about a month to finish it.
Family flick: They inspired the “junk brothers” in the movie. My daughter Sarah and my sons Sonny and Sammy are all characters in the movie, and my wife, whose name is changed to “Kathy Quinn,” played by the mother from “The Goldbergs.” My character was cut from the movie; they couldn’t find an actor dynamic enough to play Marc Alessi.
Giving ‘Goosebumps’: We went down (to Atlanta) to watch the filming last February, and met all of the actors and actresses playing my children and my wife. And it was amazing watching it on the big screen. I wound up buying tons of all of the books and DVDs – it’s the only gift people will be getting from me for the next 10 years.
Interview by Gregory Zeller