Every year, the winners of the Grow-NY competition are chosen by a panel of expert judges who come from varied backgrounds within the food and agriculture industry. The Grow-NY Summit, slated for Nov. 14-15 at the Holiday Inn Binghamton Downtown in Binghamton, New York, will feature pitches from this year’s 20 finalists as they compete for a share of $3 million, including a $1 million top prize. We sat down with one of our new judges, Liz Lusskin, to learn more about her experience and advice she has for the participants.
Lusskin is the Executive Vice President for Small Business and Technology Development (SBTD) at Empire State Development (ESD), who funds the Grow-NY competition. In her role, she leads a division with more than 40 staff and programs exceeding $1 billion across five areas focused on small business and innovation: Capital Access, Entrepreneur Development, Division of Science, Technology, and Innovation (NYSTAR), Life Sciences Initiative, and NY Ventures.
Lusskin previously served as president of the Long Island City (LIC) Partnership and executive director of the LIC Business Improvement District, promoting economic development across Long Island City’s industrial, commercial, residential, and cultural arts mixed-use community. Before her involvement in LIC, she served as the chief of staff and vice president of strategic initiatives at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU.
Other roles Lusskin has held include deputy commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) and sitting on the legislative council for the NYS Office of Federal Affairs. She is a graduate of Yale University and the NYU School of Law.
Question: What makes the Grow-NY region an excellent place for startups working in food and ag to set up operations?
The beautiful upstate area of New York served by Grow-NY has a long history and tradition of farming and food production as well as one of the world’s strongest innovation ecosystems built on its R&D, education, and industry resources. This is anchored by Cornell University, an incredible educational institution. This combination makes the region an ideal location for food and ag tech startups to scale and grow their businesses. This is also why Grow-NY is such a catalytic program for this important industry in the state.
Question: What advice do you have for food and ag innovators launching their businesses?
Use the extensive resources and expertise the Grow-NY program and Cornell University has to offer. The program and university will connect you with relevant industry partners, an expert faculty, and vital technical assistance.
Importantly, make sure to connect with my division at Empire State Development (ESD) and take advantage of our programs and innovation resources. While we have an extensive set of programs, here’s a relevant sample of them from our NY Ventures and the Division of Science, Technology, and Innovation (NYSTAR) teams that will help you launch and grow your business.
NY Ventures, through the following two funds, makes equity investments across the state in entrepreneurs, including those in Ag Tech:
- $30M Pre-seed and Seed Matching Fund Program: Funding through equity investments in venture-backable start-up companies at the earliest stages of their development. Competitive application process with applicants evaluated to assess likelihood of venture scalability. Eligible companies can apply here.
- $130M NYS Innovation Venture Capital Fund: Venture capital fund for Seed to Series B equity investments in diverse entrepreneurs and high-growth startups to support New York’s innovation ecosystem. More information can be found here.
NYSTAR leverages New York’s world-class innovation assets with programs that can help start-up companies grow including:
- Manufacturing Extension Partnership: New York Manufacturing and Extension Partnership (MEP), which is supported by federal and state funding and is a network of 11 organizations, we help small and mid-sized manufacturers create and retain jobs, increase profits, and save time and money. You can find more information here.
- New York State Science and Technology Law Center: Through Syracuse University, this center is dedicated to providing legal research, education, and information to help commercialize new technologies from lab to market. More information can be found here.
- Entrepreneurial Navigator: Provides access to programs to help incubate entrepreneurs, with an emphasis on minority and women founders. More information can be found here.
- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR): Matching SBIR/STTR to attract federal funding to bridge gap in non-dilutive funding. The program is coming soon, please be on the lookout for updates on the ESD website.
Question: Why did you agree to become a Grow-NY judge?
I’m excited to learn about and be inspired by all the incredible food and ag tech entrepreneurs in the Grow-NY program. This helps me keep a pulse on all the innovation happening across the state and ensure that we’re being effective at ESD in our support of the ecosystem. Of course, as a judge, I can’t wait to help connect the Grow-NY entrepreneurs to our supportive programs and resources.
Question: What most excites you about New York’s commitment to innovation as a strategy for economic development?
It’s truly gratifying seeing how our commitment to innovation keeps New York at the center of the most important current and most impactful future technologies, by investing in the people, companies, and institutions that make it all happen.
ESD’s economic development pillars are placemaking, workforce, tradeable sectors, and innovation. Innovation especially anchors my division. Here is a sample of programs we use to carry out our innovation strategy:
- Accelerators and Competitions: ESD supports five accelerators, including Grow-NY, focused on important New York industries, along with commercialization and student business plan competitions. More information can be found here.
- Certified business incubators: 20 incubators that provide physical space; shared administrative staff; access to capital, coaching; mentoring; networking connections; prototype development; and access to other technical services to early-stage companies. More information can be found here.
- Hot Spots: 10 regional hot spots to reach early-stage entrepreneurs and coordinate entrepreneurial ecosystems. More information can be found here.
- Center of Advanced Technology (CATs) & Center of Excellence (CoEs): New York State has 15 CATs to support tech transfer and applied research and 14 CoEs to foster collaboration between the academic research community and industry. More information can be found here.
Registration is now open for the 2023 Grow-NY Summit on Nov. 14-15 at the Holiday Inn Binghamton Downtown in Binghamton, New York.