Q&A with Grow-NY Mentor Rena Scroggins

Rena Scroggins headshot.

Q&A with Grow-NY Mentor Rena Scroggins

The Grow-NY Food and Agriculture Business Competition provides finalists with one-to-one mentorship, which includes personalized planning to help their business succeed in the Northeast. The mentors come from various backgrounds, and many have extensive experience in the food and ag industry. This is particularly true for first-time mentor Rena Scroggins, who helped launch the Grow-NY program in 2019 as the founding competition manager.

Currently the managing director for Alchemist Climate Ventures, Scroggins was previously mentoring energy startups and consulting for businesses, with an emphasis on corporate sustainability and investments. Scroggins served as competition manager for the 76West Clean Energy Competition for five years, going on to fill that role for Grow-NY from 2019-22. In her prior work with Grow-NY, Scroggins oversaw the competition from its onset; finding participants, organizing applicants, and managing the Grow-NY Summit that features the finalists and announces the final winners. Scroggins played a key role in building the competition into what it is today, and we are delighted to have her return as a mentor this year!

Question: How do you think food and ag startups benefit from launching within the Grow-NY region?

Finalists receive an array of benefits that directly impact their product and business development and have real value to the company. Finalists are often impressed that in addition to marketing attention specific to their industry and product categories, they have a mentor, only assigned to their company, who works alongside them on regional business development. The feedback founders receive from resource providers in the region can really impact how they test, market, and deploy their innovations. The Grow-NY region puts everything a food or ag venture needs into place, from potential partners, contract manufacturers, co-packers, and a supportive business community.

Question: Why did you choose to work in the food and ag industry?

Before becoming a climate tech investor, my belief in the critical need for innovation and sustainability across food and ag started long ago. It began with getting a degree in food science, working in nutrition education, running an organic farm business, and then working with food and ag startups via accelerators and competitions. Now I look for standout teams with innovations that remove carbon emissions. Food systems are estimated to account for 25-30 percent of global emissions. Commercializing low and negative carbon food and ag processes is necessary to meet global food needs and climate goals.

Question: What should food and ag startups keep in mind as they begin to grow?

Never stop seeking feedback from your customers. Continue seeking honest feedback and integrating these learnings into your product development, sales, and marketing strategies to win five-star reviews and repeat sales. Keep learning about your customer’s needs and the offerings and strategies of your competitors. Your entire team should be working towards converting early users into champions.

Keep building your network, and don’t lose touch with the programs that supported you early on. As your business grows, the resources and specific areas of expertise you will need will continue to expand.

Question: What are you most excited about for mentoring a Grow-NY finalist this year?

For me, the excitement is working with founders with passion and tenacity for what they want to bring to the world. Working with a finalist, meeting them in the region, and cheering them on will be enormously satisfying.

Question: As the founding competition manager, you launched Grow-NY and helped develop the mentorship elements of the program. What are you excited to experience from your new vantage as a mentor?

The Grow-NY mentors are a fun and curious group committed to doing their best for their finalist team. Talking to finalists and mentors over the years has shown me time and again the positive and lasting effects of the Grow-NY mentoring program. I’m excited to help my team deliver their best pitch ever.

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