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Angels in the field

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  • | 10:00 a.m. October 10, 2013
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Steve Morris, a onetime Atlanta investment banker who ran a $300 million mergers and acquisitions division at Bank South, believes the term angel investor is something of a misnomer.

Angels, after all, are heavenly beings who give willingly. Angel investors, however, take a piece of the startup business in which they invest.

Morris nonetheless believes Sarasota is ripe for a new system to match investors with entrepreneurs and startup businesses. That's why he recently founded the Sarasota Angel Network. The nonprofit network, in startup phase itself, will charge members a $1,500 entry fee, says Morris. Would-be angels, in return, get exclusive and confidential access to meetings, events and presentations from local startups.

Morris and five other local investors recently backed the network with $50,000, mostly for marketing. Morris also seeks to hire an executive coordinator. “This isn't about ego,” Morris tells Coffee Talk. “This is about getting real actionable transactions. I have no interest in making this a profit center for myself.”

Morris' experience in raising capital goes beyond corporate acquisitions. He also raised several million dollars for YoungBiz, a company he founded in the mid-1990s. It's a franchise-based business that sets up mini-learning centers, after-school programs and summer camps worldwide that focus on financial literacy and an entrepreneurial education for children and teenagers. Morris sold the U.S. side of YoungBiz a few years ago, though he still owns the international division, which he runs from Sarasota.

While the overall angel investor network in Sarasota isn't overcrowded, there are some local and regional groups that do this kind of work already. The Naples-based Gulf Coast Venture Forum has held events in Sarasota for angel investors, and there's also Tamiami Angel Fund I, a Naples-based member-owned and member-managed for-profit investment group. And Sarasota entrepreneur Chris Abbott runs the Abbeton Accelerator Fund, which, while not an angel network, has invested small sums in more than a dozen local startups and business ideas.

Morris, aware of those groups already on the scene, says a big challenge will be to ensure the Sarasota Angel Network has solid deal flow. That's angel investor lingo for a good stream of investing opportunities.

But Morris says an advantage in the endeavor is he's lived life on both sides of the angel investor-recipient equation. “I've had a lot of success,” says Morris, “but I've also failed before.”


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