Mark Lesko, who as director of Accelerate Long Island has led the region's effort to develop a high-tech economy over the last three years, is leaving the organization for a job at Hofstra University, the school announced Thursday.
Lesko, who resigned as Brookhaven Town supervisor in 2012 to head the nonprofit economic development group, will run an initiative that Hofstra is launching to support local entrepreneurs.
He will continue to work as a consultant for Accelerate Long Island.
"It's a great opportunity," Lesko said in an interview. "Right now there is just a tremendous focus on campus-based entrepreneurship centers."
The Hofstra program, called the Center for Entrepreneurship, will provide support and education for startup companies, with resources from the university's businesses, law, medical and other schools.
Lesko starts as executive dean of the program on Oct. 1.
"I can think of no one better qualified for this kind of integrated effort than Mark Lesko," Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz said in a statement.
Departure leaves voidLesko's departure leaves a void at Accelerate Long Island, founded in 2011 as a partnership between Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Island's other major research facilities to nurture startup companies.
As a consultant, Lesko plans to continue working with Accelerate to launch a mentorship program and a $1.5 million seed fund to support startup companies on Long Island, in New York City and the Hudson Valley.
Accelerate board chairman Kevin Law, who is also president of the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, said Thursday he would launch a search to replace Lesko by the end of the year.
"It's a coup for Hofstra and a good fit for Mark's talents," Law said. "We are glad he will be playing a role in some kind of capacity for Accelerate going forward."
The organization's only other full-time employee, assistant executive director Stacey Epifane Sikes, is also joining Hofstra's Center for Entrepreneurship, as a senior assistant dean.
She, too, will continue to work for Accelerate as a consultant.
Officials have long hoped that engineers and scientists at the Island's institutions, coupled with cash from wealthy Long Island investors, would give rise to a groundswell of biotech and software companies to reinvigorate the economy.
A difficult roleAccelerate Long Island was launched as a catalyst to tie those assets together. Lesko, who first proposed the idea as Brookhaven Town supervisor, was its first full-time executive director.
His task was not easy.
The coalition of research centers -- which also include Stony Brook University, Hofstra and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System's Feinstein Institute -- have not traditionally collaborated. Startups are prone to failing. And the explosion of tech companies in Manhattan and Brooklyn over the past five years has become a powerful draw for local investors and young entrepreneurs to look away from Long Island.
Nonetheless, Lesko pushed the effort forward.
He worked with local investors to match a $500,000 state grant and supply nine local companies with early-stage funding. He formed a partnership with the region's largest venture capital group, Topspin Partners. And earlier this year, Lesko secured $1.5 million from the state to launch the seed fund.