Still trying to cram 27 hours into every day, former New York State Assemblyman Marc Alessi has added another hat to his collection, heading efforts to support and grow the state’s network of economic-foundation-laying business incubators. Already hard at it chairing the economic development practice group at Ronkonkoma law firm Campolo, Middleton & McCormick and ushering Stony Brook-based SynchroPET’s breakthrough MRI/PET scanning technology to market, Alessi – who also squeezes in a few hours as executive director of Shoreham’s coming-soon Tesla Science Center – is one of the Long Island innovation economy’s busiest participants. And he likes what he sees:
OLD FRIENDS: When I was in the New York State Assembly, when I got really interested in the innovation economy and helping entrepreneurs, I began working with the Business Incubator Association on ways to incentivize investments in startups and spin more technologies out of our laboratories. David Hochman was the executive director then and I credit him with helping me form some of my policy positions on the innovation economy and entrepreneurship. When I was back in the private sector, mentors like David helped me a lot as I started my own company and got involved with the Long Island Angel Network and other groups.
THE RIGHT MAN: I’ve continued to interface with them for more than nine years. When David announced to the board last year that he was going to transition out, they started an RFP process and encouraged me to participate, because they felt I had a professional plate that would enable me to work well with the organization and help grow it.
TRANSITION OF POWER: I worked very closely with David during the transition. I’ve been flying solo since July 15 and I’m enjoying every day, traveling throughout the state and meeting with various incubators in each region.
INSPECTOR, IN GENERAL: There are over 40 incubators in the network right now, with over 70 locations, and I want to see every one of them by next summer. My job is to grow that network and bring in more incubators, so first I need to see what we already have in the network and how they’re working. I’m on a family vacation upstate right now and I’ll probably bounce over to Rochester and Buffalo and check out some locations there.
INCUBATION ISLAND: Long Island is one of the more vibrant regions when it comes to the innovation economy and incubating. With institutions like Stony Brook University and Farmingdale State College creating business-incubator programs and some of the private-sector incubators – like LaunchPad, which in May became one of the Business Incubator Association’s newest members – there’s a lot happening.
MIX AND MATCH: LaunchPad Long Island coming in is important. University incubators take on more high-risk companies, often coming out of their own labs, but private incubators in New York City and on Long Island, like LaunchPad, take on early-stage companies that are a little leaner and meaner. Private-sector incubators could learn a great deal from university incubators, while university incubators can learn about best practices and the real challenges of entrepreneurship, when you don’t have government funding and you have to thrive and make a profit.
STUDYING SYNCHROPET: Since the first tests at the University of Buffalo, they’ve done some additional studies and they’re about to release another paper based on our SynchroPET device. We’ve changed some of our performance metrics based on the testing, and we’re happy with how it’s coming along.
SYNCHROPET-IZE YOUR WATCHES: We’re now building another round of devices to test at new beta sites, and we’re in active talks with larger imaging companies that are looking to form manufacturing or distribution partnerships with us. We’re probably in the second stages of talks now and they’re doing their due diligence. If we’re going to come to any agreements, it should happen by early fall.
DON’T GIVE UP YOUR DAY JOB: Things are very busy at Campolo Middleton, where I meet 10 to 20 companies that are just starting up every month. It really keeps my finger on the pulse of what’s starting up and what’s bubbling up.
DRIVING TESLA: The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe has been a passion of mine and I’ve been involved as a board observer. They got to a point where they needed an entrepreneur with startup experience to start putting together a staff and help with the capital fundraising. The board understood that I get the mindset of successful entrepreneurs and innovators. As the part-time executive director, it’s my job to pull together this plan so we can get the museum of the ground in the next year-and-a-half.
LIKE THEY DID ON “THE WEST WING:” I’ve grown accustomed to 12-hour days and 60-hour weeks have always been the norm for me. I’m getting really good at time management. All of these jobs get an equal slice of my time. I just don’t have too many discussions standing at the water cooler … most of my discussions are done walking.
FRONT ROW: All of these projects give me a footprint in the innovation economy. From the SynchroPET standpoint, I get a firsthand view of what entrepreneurs are up against. From the point of view of the incubator association, I get a more macro view of government policies that affect the entire ecosystem. And the law firm puts me in touch with all these startups every month, so I get their perspectives.
GROWTH MODE: The Long Island innovation economy has matured a great deal in the last seven or eight years. I remember when we were first exploring how to create this kind of ecosystem – we had some incubators and we had the laboratories and we had some folks starting to invest in early-stage companies. Now, I’m impressed by the frequency of it, and what organizations like Accelerate Long Island and people like Mark Lesko have been able to accomplish. Long Island is coming together with a common goal, and we’re lightyears ahead of where we were just eight years ago.