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Sunday, May 5, 2013 - 11:00pm

Savannah Sizes Up Investment Program

Leaders in Savannah's nascent start-up community are hailing Governor Nathan Deal's signature on a bill creating a state-backed venture capital fund.

But they're concerned about funding and execution.

State lawmakers created the fund, called Invest Georgia, aimed at keeping start-up firms from having to leave Georgia to find investors.

Atlanta and Athens, both large university research hubs, could benefit from it.

But Savannah's start-up community is hoping for a piece of the action, too.

Radford Harrell started the model and actor talent firm Talent Soup and sits on the board of the non-profit economic development agency The Creative Coast.

"Savannah is one of the best places to live in Georgia but I don't know that entrepreneurs think of it as a great place to start and grow a business," Harrell says. "My hope is that this bill would in fact spread out throughout the state."

Critics say Invest Georgia could become a political hand, picking winners and losers in the private marketplace.

John Morisano started the private SLAAM startup incubator last year to keep startups from having to leaving Savannah to find investors.

He says more is merrier when it comes to investing in promising area businesses.

"The more Savannah is able to provide that capital, the retention of the folks who are coming up with those start-up ideas is really going to increase," Morisano says.

Morisano has invested in startups across the country and says he founded SLAAM because Savannah has several key attributes for savvy new businesses, including a good quality of life and a vibrant creative community.

SLAAM recently funded its first local project.

Lawmakers have yet to give the state-backed effort any funding.