Empire State Development Announces Application Window Opens for Round Six of the Grow-NY Business Competition

A robot arm extends toward rows of lettuce in a lab.

Empire State Development Announces Application Window Opens for Round Six of the Grow-NY Business Competition

Applications for the $3 million food and agriculture global startup accelerator will be accepted through May 15.

Competition is funded through Upstate Revitalization Initiatives – Finger Lakes Forward, CNY Rising and Southern Tier Soaring – regional comprehensive strategies to revitalize communities and grow the economy

Empire State Development (ESD) today announced that the application window is now open for the sixth year of the Grow-NY food, beverage, and agriculture business competition. The accelerator invites highgrowth potential food and agriculture startups from around the world to compete for $3 million in total prize money each year. The program supports 20 finalists through a business development phase, connecting them with regional resources through dedicated mentorship, and through introductions that may lead to potential partnerships and other strategic opportunities. The Grow-NY region is a 22-county area spanning Central New York, the Finger Lakes, and the Southern Tier. Since the program’s launch in 2019, its winning startups have created 289 new jobs and attracted millions of dollars in follow-on investment.

Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Hope Knight, said, “Grow-NY is a unique initiative that links agribusiness innovators with experts and investors, creating entrepreneurial opportunity in upstate New York. The sixth round of the accelerator will no doubt build on Grow-NY’s incredible success, helping to further grow the next-generation ideas of these industry pioneers and bring significant investment to the region, bolstering the future of this crucial industry in New York State and around the world.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said “Year after year, I’ve had the incredible honor of helping to award the innovative winners of the Grow-NY competition. New York is one of our nation’s agricultural leaders, attracting cutting-edge food, beverage, and technology entrepreneurs from around the globe, and Grow-NY is a great platform to spur growth in this industry and create jobs. I encourage all eligible businesses to take part in this opportunity.”

In exchange for making a positive, measurable impact to the region’s economy through economic development activities such as job creation, Grow-NY winners receive their prize money as an investment into their company. One finalist will receive a top prize of $1 million; two others will be awarded $500,000 prizes; and four more will be given $250,000 prizes. Funding for the program is provided through New York State’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative’s three regional entities, CNY Rising, Finger Lakes Forward, and Southern Tier Soaring, and is administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

Applications must be submitted by 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday, May 15. In August, up to 20 finalists will be assigned mentors and enter the business development phase.

The selected finalists will present their business plans to a panel of expert judges during the Grow-NY Summit on Wednesday, November 6 and Thursday, November 7 in Ithaca, New York, alongside a symposium of panel conversations and keynotes, a showcase of agencies, companies, research groups, and other organizations that serve food and ag startups. The program will also include a student stage where middle and high school students will pitch their ag and food tech focused ideas.

The startup competition begins its sixth year with impressive momentum, having garnered applications and interest from over 1,500 businesses in 43 unique states and 49 countries outside of the United States over the last five years. In all, 97 startups have participated as finalists, with 35 winners sharing $15 million in startup funding as well as the invaluable mentorship and networking benefits that the program delivers to finalists.

Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Benjamin Z. Houlton said, “Cornell University is proud to partner with Grow-NY to advance science-based solutions that support climate sustainability, agri-food systems and economic growth in our region and beyond. As New York’s Land-Grant institution, we’re dedicated to sharing knowledge and empowering innovators whose vision supports a circular bioeconomy that can bring new sources of revenue to our exceptional growers, producers and communities.”

The Grow-NY region is home to over 40% of New York’s 33,438 farms, and includes an abundance of vibrant, fertile lands and freshwater along with major urban population centers such as Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca, and Binghamton.

Grow-NY program director Jenn Smith said, “The Grow-NY region has unparalleled natural, economic, and agricultural resources that we’ve directed to helping food and ag startups grow their businesses and change our agrifood system in the process. We’re looking for ambitious founders from around the world to join us.”

In addition to emphasizing innovation and scalability, the accelerator is focused on drawing more diverse leaders to the region by reaching communities that have historically been left out of the innovation economy. In 2023, 61% of the 323 applicants included a founder from an underrepresented minority group, and 42% included a female founder.

Past Grow-NY winners have continued to raise money, expand, and succeed. Year five grand prize winner Hypercell was featured in an article in Forbes magazine shortly after winning the competition, and year four $250,000 winner Vivid Machines went on to complete an additional $4.3 million seed round. Hempitecture, a $500,000-year four winner, became the first company to open an industrial hemp manufacturing facility in the U.S.

To learn more about the Grow-NY competition, visit www.grow-ny.com.

To learn more about the Cornell Center for Regional Economic Advancement, visit http://crea.cornell.edu/.

Accelerating Finger Lakes Forward

Today’s announcement complements “Finger Lakes Forward,” the region’s comprehensive strategy to generate robust economic growth and community development. The regionally designed plan focuses on investing in key industries including photonics, agriculture‎ and food production, and advanced manufacturing. More information is available here. ​

Accelerating CNY Rising

Today’s announcement complements “CNY Rising” the region’s comprehensive strategy to generate robust economic growth and community development. The regionally designed plan focuses on capitalizing on global market opportunities, strengthening entrepreneurship and creating an inclusive economy. More information is available here.

Accelerating Southern Tier Soaring

Today’s announcement complements “Southern Tier Soaring,” the region’s comprehensive strategy to generate robust economic growth and community development. The regionally designed plan focuses on attracting a talented workforce, growing business and driving next-generation innovation. More information is available here.

About Empire State Development

Empire State Development (ESD) is New York’s chief economic development agency (www.esd.ny.gov). The mission of ESD is to promote a vigorous and growing economy, encourage the creation of new job and economic opportunities, increase revenues to the State and its municipalities, and achieve stable and diversified local economies. Through the use of loans, grants, tax credits and other forms of financial assistance, ESD strives to enhance private business investment and growth to spur job creation and support prosperous communities across New York State. ESD is also the primary administrative agency overseeing the Regional Economic Development Councils and the marketing of “I LOVE NY” the State’s iconic tourism brand. For more information on Regional Councils and Empire State Development, visit www.regionalcouncils.ny.gov and www.esd.ny.gov.

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