Earlier this month, Empire State Development and Cornell University announced the opening of the application window for the 2020 Grow-NY food and agriculture business competition. Funded by Empire State Development through its Upstate Revitalization Initiative and administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, Grow-NY enters its second year with a continued commitment to leverage food and agriculture innovation to strengthen the economy and grow jobs in the Central New York, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions.
Winners are required to positively impact the Grow-NY region, grow job opportunities, connect with local industry partners and contribute to a thriving Upstate economy. Each year, finalists will be awarded one $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.
“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.”
In 2019, the competition’s inaugural year, 17 finalists from around the world pitched their business plans to a live audience and panel of judges in Rochester, New York. The event attracted over 900 attendees and featured more than 75 food and agriculture exhibitors along with panel sessions on some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the industry.
Grow-NY attracts high-growth food and agriculture startups from around the world and across the state. Last year’s winners included grand prize winner, RealEats America (Geneva, NY); $500,000 winners, Dropcopter (Syracuse, NY) and Tiliter (Munchen, Germany); and $250,000 winners, Capro-X (Ithaca, NY), Combplex (Ithaca, NY), The Perfect Granola (Victor, NY) and Whole Healthy Food (Ithaca, NY).
RealEats America, a premium meal prep delivery service that sources ingredients from small farms within a 200-mile radius, took home last year’s $1 million grand prize. In addition to supporting local farmers, the company also donates any food overages to a food pantry near their Geneva headquarters. “Our win at Grow-NY has made it possible to hire a number of additional positions in Geneva and given us access to the capital we need to grow both our business and impact in the region,” stated founder and CEO, Dan Wise. Currently, RealEats ships about 25,000 to 30,000 meals per month to 22 states in the Northeast and is considering expansion into Tennessee and Michigan.
According to Wise, “The competition is a window into what Upstate New York has to offer startups like RealEats. Without the competition and the Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech, many food and ag companies wouldn’t know about the academic, financial, and governmental resources the region has to offer. Without this region, RealEats would have simply remained a great idea.”
The previous year’s Grow-NY winners are in the process of growing their teams and scaling-up business in the Grow-NY region. Combplex, a $250,000 prize winner and creator of a honeybee-compatible laser technology capable of eliminating parasitic mites responsible for the devastation of bee colonies, is currently in the process of solidifying manufacturing contracts.
“The most valuable part of our experience with the competition was being introduced to our Grow-NY mentor, Rich Delmerico, who previously served as the Director of Innovation at Kodak. He helped us connect with the resources we needed—even if we didn’t know we needed them at the time— especially for manufacturing and engineering support in Rochester,” said Combplex co-founder and CEO, Hailey Scofield. “We were also introduced to validation partners at the Wegmans Organic Farm, and our future manufacturing partner, Surmotech, a woman-owned small–batch electronic contract manufacturer. Grow–NY pulls together resources from different agencies, businesses, and schools across the region.”
The startup has also teamed up with two Rochester-based engineering firms, Eighty Four Engineering and Young Circuit Designs, to prepare their devices for field validation this summer.
“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,” said Kathryn Boor, the dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We’ve already seen results from the year one winners that fulfill 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.