Every year, the winners of the Grow-NY Food and Agriculture Business Competition are chosen by a panel of expert judges with vast experience in the food and agriculture industry. The judges are tasked with awarding seven startups a combined $3 million, including a $1 million top prize, after hearing each of the 20 finalists’ live business pitches at the Grow-NY Summit in November. We sat down with one of our new judges, Chris Kirby, about his experience as an entrepreneur in the food and ag industry.
As the founder and CEO of Ithaca Hummus, Kirby has established his company as one of the best hummus brands in America. In 2013, Kirby left his career as a professional chef and crafted his fresh lemon garlic hummus, which he then sold at a stand at the Ithaca Farmers Market, leading to the creation of the Ithaca Hummus brand. He previously held the roles of sous chef at the Mulberry Wine Bar and internal auditor at Towne Park.
Kirby studied hospitality management at the Nolan School of Hotel Administration in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. As a local food entrepreneur himself, he has a deep understanding of what it takes to thrive in the Grow-NY region.
Question: What makes the Grow-NY region an excellent place for startups working in food and ag to set up operations?
Access to a strong entrepreneurial community, population density (full of consumers) in the northeastern United States, a wide spectrum of strong regional retailers, and a strong workforce and infrastructure from established food, ag, and other businesses that have been successful in the region.
Question: What advice do you have for food and ag innovators launching their businesses?
Always remember that entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. At first you may need to wear a lot of different hats, but over time the business will evolve. Be honest with yourself about where you’re strong where you need support from a team.
Question: Why did you agree to become a Grow-NY judge?
I love the startup phase of entrepreneurship. The combination of vision and grit embodied in the spirit of an entrepreneur at the beginning of their journey is energizing for me. I do my best to be a resource for those entrepreneurs and hope that my participation as a judge in Grow-NY is helpful to them.
Question: How do you balance the creative and business sides of your company?
It’s a good question because in my experience, it’s easy to be too far on one side or the other and difficult to switch back and forth between the two. Over time and experience, I’ve gotten better at taking a pause to determine what a given scenario requires so I can approach it with the right mindset. I also rely a great deal on my team!
We are thankful to have Kirby as a judge this year! Registration is now open for the 2023 Grow-NY Summit on Nov. 14-15 at the Holiday Inn Binghamton Downtown in Binghamton, New York.