Over two years ago, serial entrepreneur Mark Fasciano, co-founder of a $40 million IT company Fatwire, was walking the halls of Stony Brook University’s Computer Science Department. Fasciano stumbled upon a project created by a Stony Brook University professor that he believed could be a commercial success and worked with the professor to turn his concept into General Sentiment – a Long Island based company that utilizes software programs to analyze millions of websites on the Internet to gauge consumer opinion.
The story of General Sentiment is an anomaly on Long Island. For decades, Long Island has attempted unsuccessfully to implement strategies to capitalize on turning the research being conducted at our world-class institutions into commercial success. Now, for the first time, all five major institutions on Long Island, appropriately dubbed the “Big 5” – Stony Brook University, Hofstra University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, North Shore LI-J Health System, and Brookhaven National Laboratory, are collaborating on “Accelerate Long Island” to make sure Long Island does not fall further behind.
Several events have taken place over the past few years that have set the stage for Accelerate Long Island. The first is the devastating loss of OSI Pharmaceuticals, one of the only major, successful companies born at a Long Island research institution (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory) that built its business on Long Island. The second is a shift in policy at the Department of Energy directed by President Obama for America’s national laboratories to focus on commercializing their technology. Lastly, there is a culture change starting to take place at Long Island’s Big 5 institutions which emphasizes commercializing technology into start-up companies to grow the Long Island economy, not just focusing on the past practice of licensing patents to mature companies for profit.
It is clear that the time is ripe to Accelerate Long Island. Accelerate Long Island is not a new idea. We are not reinventing the wheel. Long Island can replicate efforts across the nation to create an innovation based ecosystem. San Diego’s CONNECT has been doing it since the 1980’s and St. Louis’ more recent effort, Biogenerator, has drastically increased venture capital flowing to their region and the architects of both efforts had input into the design of Accelerate Long Island. There are even examples elsewhere in New York state, like High Tech Rochester and BR Ventures at Cornell University, a student run clinic that fosters entrepreneurship.
So what exactly is Accelerate Long Island? With the guidance of Silicon-Valley based consultant Collaborative Economics and a leadership group including the Big 5 and Long Island’s major business organization, the Long Island Association, we have a blueprint for an organization to take the ideas at the research institutions and connect them with entrepreneurs. There are many more Mark Fascianos out there and they are not walking the halls of the research institutions – nor do we expect them to be. Accelerate Long Island will provide an enabling platform – virtual and in person to connect the Mark Fascianos of the world with the research innovations bursting with commercial potential being developed at these institutions every day. Another component of Accelerate Long Island is a modest seed fund that will bridge the so-called “valley of death” for early stage companies – the time when the product is being developed, but is not yet ready for the market.
The plan is for Accelerate Long Island to be incubated by the Long Island Association following the model of the Long Island Housing Partnership and then become an independent, separate entity supported by the private sector. Accelerate Long Island is in its infancy, but what is significant is that we now have a regional strategy to create high-tech jobs from ideas emerging from our research institutions. We are not going to become Silicon Valley or Route 128 in Boston overnight, but I believe if we implement this strategy we have the potential to create the next Google or Facebook on Long Island, which would undoubtedly be transformational for our economy.