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Making Long Island the next Silicon Valley

Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko will soon be executive director of Accelerate Long Island. Photo by Erika Karp

September 06, 2012 | 10:29 AM
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko recently accepted a position as the executive director of Accelerate Long Island because the initiative is "the key to the future of the region."

He said in an interview at Times Beacon Record Newspapers that when he first takes his new position, he will work to identify Long Island's assets that would aid in its development into the next Silicon Valley.

Lesko recently announced his plan to resign from his role at Brookhaven Town as from Sept. 14 after he presents his 2013 budget. He will then take the lead at Accelerate Long Island, an economic growth initiative led by the Long Island Association that includes collaboration between Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Hofstra University and the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, among others.

Lesko said he hopes to identify start-up opportunities, such as those at the local labs, and help them along, one by one, with seed funding. The primary focus will be to create start-ups in the information technology, energy and biotechnology fields.

Originally, Lesko said, "I was kind of resistant" to the idea of taking the job, although he eventually accepted after being offered the position. He does not plan to return to public service — "I'm out of politics," the 45-year-old said.

Much like how Lesko said he would start by identifying the Island's assets, Resi Cooper, the interim executive director of Accelerate Long Island, said she has been working to understand the needs of local research institutions. Cooper also said Accelerate Long Island recently held a meeting to explore companies and technologies for possible investment. One such company is SynchroPET, a start-up working on PET scanners that can be operated in conjunction with an MRI and have advanced imaging capabilities; the technology was developed at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Former Assemblyman Marc Alessi is the CEO of the firm.

Other local technologies include goggles that prevent surgery patients from going blind and an energy-efficient heat pump.

About Lesko taking the reins, Cooper said he has "a great grasp of ... what's important for the organization at this point."

Jeff Leventhal, a resident of Lloyd Harbor and the chief executive officer of Work Market, a Manhattan-based software company that recently opened an office in Huntington, settled on that location after one by Stony Brook University didn't work out.

Leventhal said Huntington worked better for his business because, among other reasons, the environment was better for his workers. For a tech company, employees are usually younger, he said, and they want to work somewhere they can walk to get lunch or to the coffee shop, where there are places nearby where they can meet people and they are more able to afford to live in the community.

"As simple as that may be, the lifestyle just works here," Leventhal added.

Lesko said one of his goals is to create exciting places to live on Long Island. He also talked about creating thought boxes — places that incorporate living, dining and office space to make more fun work environments — in locations closer to New York City, such as Mineola and Hicksville.

Mark Fasciano, an Accelerate Long Island board member, said Long Island has all the ingredients necessary to become a tech economy, such as research with potential for commercialization, a talent base and a strong infrastructure. He said the main obstacle is how spread out Long Island is and bringing people together.

Lesko has "really energized" the organization, Fasciano said, and he thinks Lesko's leadership of Accelerate Long Island is "going to make a huge impact on Long Island in the long term."

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