July 28, 2019

Bonnett: Seed grant bridges communities, entrepreneurial effort

Jennifer Bonnett  /  The Augusta Chronicle

One of the strategic initiatives outlined in the Savannah Economic Development Authority's recently released Propel Savannah study (at www.propelsavannah.com) is to "Catalyze a Complete Funding Continuum for Entrepreneurial Endeavors."

This week, we took one small step for the Savannah region (yup, I've been watching too much Apollo 11 coverage). On Tuesday, the Creative Coast received a federal grant from the Economic Development Administration to fund the development of a seed fund in the region.

This grant will help fund the launch and management of a $2 million to $10 million seed fund that will invest in about 30 high-growth potential startups in an eight-county region (Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties in South Carolina, and Chatham, Bulloch, Bryan, Liberty and Effingham counties in Georgia).

While the Creative Coast took the lead on this endeavor, it was truly a community effort. To qualify for the grant, we had to find matching dollars, in either cash or services, from the community to support us. Our allies and funders on this endeavor are SEDA, Hunter Maclean, TJS Deemer Dana, Bennett Thrasher, Pilot Mountain Ventures, Abshire PR, East Taylor Creative, Carolina Textile and E2 Advisors.

In addition to our funders, the following organizations supported the effort with letters of support/commitment: Georgia Southern University, Georgia Tech Savannah, Savannah Technical College, Technology Association of Georgia, Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, Maven Makers, SCORE Savannah, South Carolina Lowcountry SCORE, Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance, Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation and Beaufort Digital Corridor.

Last, our key strategic partner is the Don Ryan Center for Innovation, a business incubator in Bluffton with a similar mission to that of the Creative Coast.

If you've made it this far, you have come to realize that this fund, which we are calling the Bridge Fund, goes across the Savannah River, across the state line. I believe this was key to our success in receiving the federal funding.

This is a "Regional Innovation Strategies" grant and regions go across state lines. Talent and customers travel across state lines every day. We believe investors will, too.

Now the real work begins. Now we go out and raise $2million to $10 million from high-net-worth individuals and companies to fund the fund, and eventually the companies, which are interested in a return on both their investment and our region. Will you join us?

Jennifer Bonnett is executive director of the Creative Coast and vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Savannah Economic Development Authority. The Creative Coast is a nonprofit supporting local innovators that is made possible by the city of Savannah and SEDA. She can be reached at jen@thecreativecoast.org.