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CA drops support for Accelerate Long Island high-tech group

CA Technologies, Long Island's largest software maker, is

CA Technologies, Long Island's largest software maker, is withdrawing support from Accelerate Long Island, a coalition of researchers, universities and business leaders trying to cultivate high-tech startups. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin, 2012

CA Technologies, Long Island's largest software maker, is withdrawing support from a coalition of researchers, universities and business leaders trying to cultivate high-tech startups.

The move is a symbolic blow to the organization, Accelerate Long Island, founded three years ago to leverage the region's research facilities and proximity to Wall Street to build a high-tech economy. CA, the Island's biggest public company by stock market value, was an early supporter of the effort, contributing $50,000 annually to the group's budget.

"We thank CA Technologies for being one of the founding members of Accelerate Long Island," Mark Lesko, the nonprofit's executive director, said. "It appears as if this was solely a business decision . . . and we respect that."

CA's withdrawal from the organization comes amid growing fear in the region's business community that the company will abandon Long Island and move its Islandia headquarters to Manhattan, Silicon Valley or elsewhere.

Since he took over the company in January, chief executive Mike Gregoire has repeatedly said CA has no plans to leave. Tuesday, CA spokeswoman Jennifer Hallahan said pulling support from Accelerate does not indicate any broader disengagement from the region. The company, she said, remains committed to staying in Islandia and supporting local economic development efforts.

"CA continues to support many local Long Island organizations and associations," including software development projects at Stony Brook University and the Long Island Angel Network, which funds startups, Hallahan said.

Company officials declined to say publicly why they were backing away from Accelerate. CA told the organization that it was withdrawing to focus "on initiatives that are directly related to our business."

Speaking privately, several CA officials said they felt Accelerate had become too focused on biotech startups, making it a poor fit for the software giant. The officials also said they were disappointed with the organization's progress.

Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association business group, oversaw Accelerate's founding. He disagreed it's overly focused on biotechnology, saying the group is working with a broad base of entrepreneurs, including many software startups. It's too early, he said, to determine whether the effort has been a success or failure.

"I'm excited about the possibilities," Law said.

Local business and academic leaders have talked for decades about cultivating technology companies, saying the brainpower at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory and other institutions has primed the region for innovation. Yet, the effort has borne little fruit.

It was with much fanfare, then, that Cold Spring Harbor joined forces in 2011 with Brookhaven, CA and other local institutions to form Accelerate and jump-start the effort. Lesko, the former Brookhaven Town supervisor, took over as executive director 15 months ago.

As part of CA's withdrawal, company co-founder Russell Artzt is resigning from Accelerate's board. He will continue to work with the organization as a technical adviser and potential investor, Lesko said.

Despite losing CA, Lesko said Accelerate remains well positioned to succeed. It has forged relationships with a trove of promising young companies, he said. And last month, Accelerate entered into a partnership with Topspin Partners, the region's largest venture capital firm, to potentially fund some of those startups.

Law estimated CA's $50,000 contribution represented roughly 8 percent of Accelerate's budget. Lesko said losing that support won't "materially impact" the organization's operations. "We are very much a startup ourselves," Lesko said. "So we are very financially conservative and secure."

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