Each year, the 20 Grow-NY finalists benefit from access to resources and connections during the competition’s Business Development phase, which includes 1:1 guidance from an assigned mentor who will help them plan how to maximize their impact in the burgeoning food and agriculture landscape of the region. We sat down with new mentor Colleen Anunu to discuss their experience, insight, and advice about entrepreneurship in the food and ag industry.
Currently the co-managing director and head of product development at Gimme! Coffee, Anunu has nearly 20 years of experience in the coffee industry. They are the former Director of Coffee Supply Chain at Fair Trade USA and a Past President of the Specialty Coffee Association. Anunu specializes in sustainable commodity sourcing and third-party voluntary sustainability standards. With their experience in supply chain development, work in sustainability, and deep understanding of the Grow-NY region, they are an important asset for the competition finalists.
Question: How do you think food and ag startups benefit from launching within the Grow-NY region?
There’s no better location to build your food or ag startup business than the Grow-NY region. Ag participants will benefit from the rich history of dairy, fruit, and vegetable crop farming, and especially from the institutional and state support that have maintained the region’s position as a leader for innovation. Brands and manufacturers can benefit from established co-packers and a growing cultural emphasis on clean and sustainable food production. Our physical proximity to downstream urban markets and upstream suppliers makes the Grow-NY region an ideal (and don’t forget idyllic) location to establish your company.
Question: Why did you choose to work in the food and ag industry?
I think the food and ag industry chose me! Really, though, I have found that the sustainable food and ag industry has a particular values-aligned focus to prioritize innovations that solve the pressing issues at the intersection of scalability, environmental justice, and healthy food (rich in nutrient and cultural diversity). The spirit of coop-etition (cooperative competition) exists to lift all boats.
Question: What should food and ag startups keep in mind as they begin to grow?
Build capacity into your physical operation from the start. Many businesses need to balance lean operations with growth trajectories – build a production line or pipeline line that meets your year five state!
Question: What are you most excited about for mentoring a Grow-NY finalist this year?
As a business owner and operator, I’m excited to engage with passionate people who think critically about the future of our food systems. The businesses that are participating have inspiring visions and it is an honor to bring them to our region and continue to make New York a leader.
Question: As the co-managing director and head of product development at Gimme! Coffee and extensive experience within the coffee industry, what is your advice for food and ag startups looking to specialize in a specific product?
Take the right steps to secure your operations around your product, but don’t lose sight of the need to diversify and build your team appropriately.
We are grateful to have Colleen as a Grow-NY mentor. This year’s Grow-NY finalists will be announced August 23.