Heavy-hitting LI BioMentor Initiative makes it official

Real initiative: Diane Fabel, chief of operations at SBU's Center for Biotechnology, and MIT's Lou Goldish help kick off the Long Island BioMentor Initiative Thursday morning at the de Seversky Mansion.

A high-octane effort to unite regional bioentrepreneurs with qualified business mentors has formally launched – though the Long Island BioMentor Initiative is already quite busy.

The LIBMI officially accepted its first program applications in a “launch event” Thursday morning at the de Seversky Mansion on the New York Institute of Technology’s Old Westbury campus. But the BioMentor Initiative is already a year into a “pilot phase,” according to founding mentor Mark Lesko, who noted “about a dozen” early-stage enterprises already in the loop, such as Stony Brook-based biotech Traverse Biosciences.

Lesko, Hofstra University’s vice president of economic development and a director of revamped regional seed fund Accelerate Long Island, is one of several high-caliber founding mentors of the BioMentor Initiative.

Among other heavy-hitting current and former business leaders, the list also includes Clever Devices Chief People Office Linda Amper, Henry Schein Vice President of Quality Assurance Jeff Peacock, TD Bank Long Island Market President Edward Travaglianti, Carter DeLuca Farrell & Schmidt partner Raymond Farrell and former Long Island High Technology Incubator Executive Director Anil Dhundale, a retired Big Pharma exec who also ran Stony Brook University’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program.

Mark Lesko: Mentoring, not investing.

The super-squad assembles here under a partnership between SBU’s Center for Biotechnology and Accelerate Long Island, executing a program developed in league with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s highly successful Venture Mentoring Service and vigorously supported by the Long Island Bioscience Huba National Institutes of Health-supported partnership between SBU, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.

“We actually started this idea years ago, when I was first with Accelerate Long Island,” Lesko told Innovate LI. “We partnered with the Center for Biotechnology and started designing a program based on what they were doing at MIT.”

What they were doing was a radical new approach to mentoring the early-stage businesses growing out of MIT’s labs. The VMS – which helped the Long Island partners develop the BioMentor Initiative, according to Lesko, making it “part of a family of MIT-spawned mentoring programs around the world” – follows an “objective team-mentoring model” that champions one strict rule above all others: The uber-qualified mentors are prohibited from investing in, pitching business to or otherwise profiting from their mentees.

“In other words, you really aren’t supposed to try and invest in the mentees or sell them professional services – it’s just pure mentoring,” Lesko said. “A million people offer to ‘mentor’ entrepreneurs on Long Island, but a lot of those folks are really looking to invest or sell.

“The MIT model strips all that out of the relationship.”

Another unique aspect of the 18-year-old MIT model: It assigns the mentees homework, according to Lesko, who referenced “a five- or six-week game plan that really keeps everything focused.”

“The mentees report back to the mentors frequently in terms of their progress,” he said. “It’s not open-ended, but very focused.”

Among those attending Thursday’s kickoff event was Lou Goldish, senior advisor to MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service, which launched in 2000 after two successful MIT-affiliated serial entrepreneurs independently approached Provost Robert Brown with the same radical ideas about the university’s commercialization-support system, and the provost put them both on the job.

The LIBMI “has a real reason to celebrate today,” according to Goldish, who trumpeted Long Island’s “world-class biotech researchers and their projects.”

“You are providing them a world-class mentoring program, to help create world-class biotech businesses for your region” Goldish said in a statement.

Although Accelerate Long Island still “financially supports” the long-brewing Long Island version of the VMS program, the pilot phase was “operationally handed off” to the Center for Biotechnology about a year ago, according to Lesko.

And operationally, things have been busy: With more than 10 biotech-focused startups and a dozen-plus founding mentors already in the mix – plus services and resources contributed by major-league institutions like CSHL and BNL, among others – “there’s a decent amount of logistics involved,” noted Lesko.

The founding mentor gave organizational props to Monique Gablenz, the former director of SBU’s Business Incubator at Calverton now serving as the LIBMI’s operations manager.

“Just to start with, you have to be able to get four mentors together in one place,” Lesko said. “Monique does a great job putting it all together.”

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