Lesko tapped to head Hofstra entrepreneur center

Accelerate director Mark Lesko: Stepping down but will continue in a consulting role.

By GREGORY ZELLER // Accelerate Long Island director Mark Lesko has been named executive dean of Hofstra University’s new Center for Entrepreneurship, a multi-disciplinary program that plans to leverage entrepreneurial activities at the university’s business, law, medicine and engineering schools.

Lesko, who is stepping down as Accelerate’s top executive but will continue to work for the organization in a consulting role, starts at Hofstra Oct. 1.

The university said Lesko, a former federal prosecutor and onetime supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven, will build on the work he has done at Accelerate, a collaboration among the area’s research institutions, including Hofstra, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the North Shore-LIJ Feinstein Institute and Stony Brook University, that is designed to commercialize research, fund high-tech startup companies and build the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The goals of the Center for Entrepreneurship are to expand the entrepreneurship curriculum, coordinate business plan competitions including the $100,000 Hofstra CPXi Venture Tech Challenge, launch student fellowships, nurture the Hofstra Startups Club, create a multi-disciplinary law and business clinic, facilitate the creation of technology-based startup companies and establish a technology transfer function at the university.

“The Center for Entrepreneurship is an interdisciplinary initiative borne of the recognition that building a new economic engine for Long Island means cultivating the kind of original, inventive thinking and systematic follow-up that fuels successful ideas-based economic development,” Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz said. “I can think of no one better qualified for this kind of integrated effort than Mark Lesko. With his experience as a federal prosecutor, as town supervisor and with Accelerate Long Island, Mark is singularly qualified to navigate the complex intersection of government, business and academia that this center will occupy.”

Lesko said his consulting role will be “very similar to the one I have now.”

Whether the program will name a new executive director, he added, “is a discussion the board of directors is going to have.”

“The board will work hard on how to expand the efforts we’ve made so far,” he added. “I plan to be part of that new effort.”

The organization is close to completing its first round of joint seed investments with the Long Island Emerging Technologies Fund, a venture vehicle powered by Setauket Investment firm Jove Equity Partners and Roslyn’s Topspin Fund. But with a just-announced $1.5 million stake by New York Ventures – a $147 million Empire State Development effort backing small businesses, particularly tech ventures, across the state – Accelerate LI is just getting started, according to Lesko.

The $1.5 million will be matched by private investors, he said, meaning “a minimum $3 million seed fund … though if our initial fund is any indication of how the new fund will operate, we’ll end up deploying more than $3 million in capital.”

Accelerate is also planning a new mentorship program, Lesko added, to coach entrepreneurs through the early stages of forming and launching their companies – very similar to the work he’ll be doing as executive dean of Hofstra’s entrepreneurship center.

The Center for Entrepreneurship is the latest innovation foray for Hofstra, which earlier this year raised the curtain on its Center for Innovation – another multidisciplinary center, this one meshing work in the university’s engineering, manufacturing and robotics programs with startups and small companies – and in 2015 was named one of the 50 most entrepreneurial research universities in the nation by Forbes magazine, for the second straight year.

“Hofstra University has tremendous entrepreneurial energy,” Lesko said. “I look forward to leveraging Hofstra’s existing assets and working with its students and faculty to facilitate the creation of startups that will also contribute to Long Island’s innovation-based economy.”

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