Application Window Opens for Grow-NY, New York State and Cornell University’s Multi-Million Dollar Global Food and Agriculture Business Competition

Application Window Opens for Grow-NY, New York State and Cornell University’s Multi-Million Dollar Global Food and Agriculture Business Competition

Startups from across the globe competing to win a combined total of $3 million in prize money 

Syracuse, NY – March 31, 2020 – New York state and Cornell University today announced that the application window of the 2020 Grow-NY business competition is now open for submissions. Grow-NY, an unprecedented business competition, is in the second year of its three-year initiative and focuses on enhancing the emerging food and agriculture innovation cluster currently present in the Finger Lakes, Central New York, and Southern Tier regions of New York state. The transformative competition attracts high-growth food and agriculture startups from around the world to New York state to compete for a combined total of $3 million in prize money. 

“The agricultural economy in New York continues to grow with increased investment in our farms and local products,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Chair of the Statewide Regional Economic Development Councils. “The first round of the Grow-NY Competition was a great success, and we are excited to launch the second round and see the potential entrepreneurs have to make the industry even stronger. These companies are developing ideas and plans to revolutionize the industry by transforming sustainability and improving the health and well-being of New Yorkers. We are committed to helping these innovative companies grow and thrive in New York State.” 

Empire State Development is funding the competition through its Upstate Revitalization Initiative connected with the three regions—Finger Lakes Forward, CNY Rising and Southern Tier Soaring—and Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement will plan and execute it. Winners will be required to create a positive impact in the Grow-NY region, grow job opportunities, connect with local industry partners and contribute to a thriving Upstate economy. Each year, one finalist will be selected for a $1 million top prize; two $500,000 prizes and four $250,000 prizes will also be awarded for a total of $3 million in prize money. Tax incentives will also be included.  

“The Grow-NY program helps Cornell achieve its land grant mission by leveraging the abundant natural, commercial, and academic resources in our region to attract innovations in food and agriculture that help our community grow, make, move, and sell food more sustainably and with greater efficiency. This becomes even more vital as we look for ways to recover from the economic effects of COVID-19,” said Kathryn J. Boor, Dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. We’ve already seen results from the year one winners that fulfil on the promise of the program, and we’re looking forward to more, diverse, high-growth potential applicants in year two.” 

Applications for the Grow-NY competition will be accepted through July 15, 2020. From the applications submitted, up to 20 finalists will be selected in August 2020 and will enter a mentoring and business development phase from September to November. Finalists will pitch their ideas and business plans at the Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit, a public symposium and industry forum, on Nov. 17 and 18 at a soon to be announced location in Syracuse, NY  

“In this unprecedented time, it is more important than ever to continue the programs that leverage New York State’s great assets to grow our economy,” said Eric Gertler, Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-designate. “The Grow-NY competition is attracting startup innovation that will support job creation and the further development of our state’s food, beverage and agriculture industries.”  

Judges will base award decisions on the following five criteria: 

  • Viability of Commercialization and Business Model – the potential for the entrant to generate revenue and maintain a cost structure that allows for a competitive and sustainable business, demonstrate technological readiness or innovate to fulfill its value proposition; 
  • Customer Value – the degree to which the entrant is providing something for which customers are willing to pay, and addressing a substantial market; 
  • Food and Agriculture Innovation – the extent to which the entrant is pushing what’s considered state-of-the-art in the food and agriculture industries, and contributing to Upstate NY’s status as a global leader in innovation in these markets; 
  • Regional Job Creation – the potential for creating high-quality jobs in the Grow-NY footprint; and 
  • Team – the quality and completeness of the team and its readiness to deliver. 

The Grow-NY region includes a broad swath of Upstate New York’s most vibrant farmlands as well as several major urban centers, including Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca and Binghamton. 

In all, it includes 22 counties, broken down into three regions, as follows: 

  • Finger Lakes – Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Orleans, Ontario, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates  
  • Central New York – Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego 
  • Southern Tier – Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Delaware, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins 

The competition is anticipated to produce up to 20 finalists who will receive: 

  • Dedicated mentorship from a hand-selected business adviser; 
  • Additional pitch training to hone their live pitches for the judges; 
  • An expenses-paid, three-day business development trip to the Grow-NY region for up to two finalists per team; and 
  • Introductions to potential investors, business tours with potential partners and valuable appointments for finalist team representatives. 

In 2019, the inaugural year of the Grow-NY competition, 17 finalists pitched their business plans to a live audience and panel of judges during the Summit held at the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The event attracted over 900 attendees and featured more than 75 food and agricultural exhibitors along with enriching panel sessions tackling some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the industry today. Last year’s winners included Real Eats America (Geneva, NY), Dropcopter (Syracuse, NY), Tiliter (Munchen, Germany), Capro-X (Ithaca, NY), Combplex (Ithaca, NY), The Perfect Granola (Victor, NY) and Whole Healthy Food (Ithaca, NY). Real Eats America took home the $1 million grand prize. 

The competition winners have a non-residential requirement to operate in Central New York, the Finger Lakes or Southern Tier regions for at least one year and will have to agree to participate in an equity share program in which a portion of their profits will be returned back to the program to support future work in food and agriculture innovation within the region. In addition to prize money, this competition will support all operational, promotional and implementation expenses including marketing, events and a mentoring program that will bring finalists to the three regions, support their development and foster connections to the agriculture and food innovation communities. 

“Last year, farmers, makers, industry leaders, local agencies, service providers, and educational institutions came together to ensure that in addition to the winners getting prize money and support, all the finalist startup teams had access to the resources they need to grow their businesses within New York state. Entrepreneurs in this program receive a unique set of tools and supports that are not found in other programs,” explained Jenn Smith, Program Director of Grow-NY, Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement. “We’re already seeing the positive impact of last year’s competition and Summit and are looking forward to seeing what year two will bring.” 

Grow-NY competition prize funds are distributed to winning companies in increments based on agreed-upon milestones to ensure the funds are used to maximize economic impact in the region—through activities like job creation, partnership with other companies and agriculture producers, and investment in local infrastructure to operate the company. To learn more about the competition, including timeline, prize details, eligibility and residency requirements, visit 

About Empire State Development 
Empire State Development (ESD) promotes a vigorous and growing state economy, encourages business investment and job creation, and supports diverse, prosperous local economies across New York State through the efficient use of loans, grants, tax credits, real estate development, marketing and other forms of assistance. To learn more about ESD, visit

About the Cornell Center for Regional Economic Advancement 
The Cornell Center for Regional Economic Advancement (CREA) supports economic impact in Upstate New York through entrepreneurship and innovation. We help people advance ideas that will create jobs in all fields in our region, to enrich the area’s economic diversity. To learn more, visit

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