A $2 million state-sponsored pilot seed fund was approved Thursday by the Empire State Development Corp. to provide investments in high-technology startup and emerging companies. The project, called the Upstate Regional Seed Fund, was created by Linden Oaks-based Excell Partners Inc., which will invest the grant funds. Excell Partners, a non-profit formed in 2005 through an agreement with the University of Rochester Medical Center, has invested $2.4 million in 21 new companies since its inception. "This seed capital comes at a critical time for high-tech startup companies in upstate," Excell Partners CEO Theresa Mazzullo said. "New York State is to be commended for recognizing the need and the importance of investing in innovative companies that will generate new jobs for the upstate region." The pilot project will use discretionary funds from the state Assembly. The funds will be administered by the ESDC in partnership with Excell and upstate universities, officials said. Syracuse University and Cornell University will provide in-kind support, they said. "New job growth in our state and region will depend on precisely this kind of partnership between the public, private and academic sectors," said 132nd District Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit. The project was spawned by a task force created by Gov. David Paterson in May 2009 to find ways to diversify the state economy through partnerships between industry and higher education, officials said. The fund will provide pre-seed and seed-stage funding to technology companies from universities and research institutions in Rochester and along the upstate corridor from Buffalo to Albany, Paterson said. "This seed fund has long been a priority of mine, as it will aid in that critical goal of investment between the laboratory and the marketplace, resulting in the startup enterprises that define the well-documented economic expansion of regions such as Silicon Valley," said Dennis Mullen, the ESDC's Rochester-based chairman and CEO. Excell Partners will identify, develop and implement advanced technologies to enable selected companies to grow and compete, and will be the conduit to capital to carry out their business plans, officials said. Paterson proposed a seed fund as part of his 2010-11 executive budget, but it was not included in the approved budget. Officials hope the pilot program will be a model for a fully funded program in future budgets, they said.