By Joe Kellard, Long Island Business News
Marc Alessi keeps wearing many hats. A former state assemblyman and Long Island Power Authority board member, Alessi helped launch and finance startup companies across various industries, including the biotech, information technology, construction and real estate sectors. He co-founded the investment group Hampton’s Angel Network and is a past executive director of Long Island Angel Network. He helped establish Accelerate Long Island and serves as chairman and founding CEO of its portfolio company, SynchroPET. We spoke to Alessi after he joined the Ronkonkoma-based law firm Campolo, Middleton & McCormick in June as a member of its corporate and real estate practice groups.
Why did you decide to join forces with Campolo, Middleton & McCormick? I decided to join Campolo, Middleton & McCormick because of their reputation as a firm that is entrepreneurial and flexible when dealing with startup enterprises. It is important to not only service companies that are more established with their needs, but we also need to help companies that are just starting out and are in their infancy. When a company is pre-revenue, you need to give them patient advice to help them grow. Sometimes you need to delay billing so that what little capital a startup has does not just go to initial legal fees. This firm has a track record of finding a way to make things work and to help companies at every stage grow.
How will you assist entrepreneurs of small to midsized companies in your new position with the firm? Entrepreneurs need a broad spectrum of support. An attorney is not just someone who drafts corporate documents or a contract. An attorney in this area needs to intrinsically understand the business and be able to act as a sounding board on a host of issues. So, primarily I act as a trusted adviser to entrepreneurs. Sometimes they call me when they just want to flesh out their thoughts, their long-term planning.
How did you get involved with tech startups? I have always been an entrepreneur and liked starting things, having started my first company at 19 years old: a painting franchise to help put me through school. I hired over 18 employees, ran payroll and taxes and marketing. In college, instead of pledging a fraternity, I started one. I love making something from nothing. However, I turned my attention to politics and, for 10 years, applied the skills of an entrepreneur to the political arena. While serving in the legislature, the consummate entrepreneur in me came out. I gravitated toward policy areas that would help create an incentive for investments in startup enterprises in New York State. I met with venture capitalists, angel investors, and tech transfer personnel at our state’s top research facilities and took their advice on what policies we could put in place at the state level to help grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem on Long Island and across the state. I then realized that I had no interest in staying in politics, and that I needed to get back into the private sector and be hands on in starting businesses, as an entrepreneur and as an attorney.
What are some of the businesses that you’ve helped launch and finance? SynchroPET, In Between Jobs, Buncee, and Grieve Your Taxes have been the most recent. I decided to launch SynchroPET, a biomedical device company that has licensed three patents from Brookhaven National Lab for a new way to build positron emission tomography devices for both small animal and human medical imaging. I raised the angel round of funding and built the team that is now bringing the company’s first devices to market. I don’t take a salary from SynchroPET; my job is to grow the company and increase the value of the company for both our employees and our investors. I still maintain my law practice and a consulting practice, where I help small to midsized companies with the experience I have gained within Long Island’s emerging startup entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Are there changes to laws or regulations that would help Long Island tech startups compete more effectively with their counterparts in New York City? I think there could be some changes at the state level that would benefit the entire ecosystem of our region including New York City, like founder’s tax credits. Instead of competing with New York City, we need to complement New York City. The one thing that every entrepreneur on Long Island needs is greater access to capital.
How has your involvement with various entrepreneurial endeavors made you a better attorney? I have first-hand experience with the everyday obstacles that an entrepreneur has to struggle through. Sometimes an entrepreneur does not need law advice. They just need advice from a good listener who takes the time to understand their business, and has been in their shoes before, as opposed to a service provider looking for more billable hours.
What have you learned as a three-term assemblyman that has helped your legal background? I learned not only how to argue the law, but how to change it. What people don’t realize is that our democracy still works, though of course, it can work better. A group of everyday people who have an issue with a law that is affecting their personal lives, their businesses or their community can band together and create change. I have seen it time and time again, and I have participated in it. It is very empowering.
Tell us about the civil legal services you provide as an adviser to the nonprofit Nassau/Suffolk Law Services. My first experience with Nassau/Suffolk Law Services was as a volunteer when I was attending law school. I realized that there were so many people in our community that did not have access to decent legal representation. Everyone thinks that if you are poor you can get a lawyer appointed to you. But that is only in criminal cases. There are so many people locked into bad situations, whose lives are close to ruin, that have to navigate the legal system alone. Nassau/Suffolk Law Services tries to change that. I joined their board of advisers because of the experience I had as a volunteer, and the need I witnessed as an elected official.
How did you end up working with the East End Arts Council? I became involved with the council first when I served in the state assembly. I felt a number of their programs had a very positive impact on the quality of life in our community, so I did everything that I could to support them. After I left office, they asked me to serve on their board. Now I serve as an adviser; I try to help them operate and fulfill their mission as efficiently as possible while finding new ways to spread the arts to all residents living on Long Island.