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a lot more cash to get going, tend to take far longer to generate returns, and as such, are best suited for certain specific types of investors with experience in the sector. While $100,000 might do wonders for a social media startup, for instance, it’s not going to amount to a whole lot for a biotech, Lesko says.
Even though Accelerate LI does have a smaller VC presence—Dave Calone, CEO of local VC firm Jove Equity Partners, is also on its board, as is Canrock’s Fasciano—it needed some big dollars, and a firm with a focus on life sciences to get these companies off the ground. So it engaged Topspin, a $213 million venture capital and private equity firm that with a history of investing in biotech startups not just nationally, but also those coming out of Long Island. Topspin, for instance, originally started out with a regional focus, calling itself the Long Island Venture Fund. Lesko says the firm didn’t get the deal flow it wanted, though, so it shifted gears, changed its name to Topspin, and began growing and investing in companies all over the world. Even so, Topsin doesn’t ignore its roots: it recently poured cash into Certerra and Mirimus, two life sciences spinouts from Cold Spring Harbor.
When Lesko and others first talked about putting Accelerate LI together, it tried to get Topspin on board. The VC firm balked, though, looking back on its unsuccessful regionally-focused start.
“[Guthart] wasn’t confident we would succeed based upon his experience,” Lesko says. “He kind of adopted a wait-and-see attitude.”
Lesko stayed in touch, however, and ran deal proposals by Topspin and pitched potential companies to him as Accelerate LI got going. He says that Topspin eventually became interested because of the number of companies coming through Accelerate LI, and the quality of ideas they were presenting. This has coincided with recent efforts by Cold Spring, Stonybrook, and others, who have been bringing in new people to help jumpstart their technology transfer programs.
“That, combined with Topspin’s willingness to engage, is massive. It’s really huge for the region,” Lesko says.
Now Accelerate LI has to turn that alliance, and its grant money, into startups with a future. Lesko says some news is on the way, with a series of announcements potentially coming over the next several weeks when the first batch of startups with Accelerate LI seed funding emerge. Topspin is currently evaluating deals, and a majority of them are life sciences, biotech, and medical device-type companies, according to Lesko.
“We can’t make promises, we can’t say we have any particular quota or anything like that, but suffice it to say we now have real money sitting at the table so for the right idea, with the right team, we have some players in place that can actually move the needle,” he says.