State Leaders Support Grow-NY To Bolster COVID-19 Affected Economy

State Leaders Support Grow-NY To Bolster COVID-19 Affected Economy

On May 14, New York state leaders came together for a virtual briefing on the Grow-NY food and agriculture business competition. Funded by Empire State Development through its Upstate Revitalization Initiative and administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, the event shared news about the  opening of applications for the competition’s second year, and discussed how the Grow-NY program is moving forward amid COVID-19, as well as plans for connecting the food and agriculture innovation hub in New York in the coming year. More than 300 individuals attended the virtual briefing live.  

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Senator Rachel May, and Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon all spoke about the value Grow-NY will bring in strengthening the state’s economy and growing jobs at a time when it is very needed.  

“Now more than ever before, New Yorkers and all Americans truly appreciate the food in the grocery stores and on their tables, and we’re very proud that New York State is one of the most significant agricultural states in the nation,” said Hochul 

“We know how critical food and agriculture is to our economy. That’s why one of my favorite programs is Grow-NY, a global competition designed to strengthen these economies throughout the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, and Central New York. By investing in startups and innovation, we can enhance these food supplies and job creation, both critical elements to restarting our economy.” 

Last year, Grow-NY attracted 199 applicants from around the world and over 900 attendees to the Grow-NY Summit held in Rochester, New York and $3 million was awarded to the top food and ag startups. This year’s Summit  will occur on November 17 and 18, and in addition to the live pitch competition, will include a symposium featuring important conversations about the region’s food and agriculture production and innovation opportunities. The Summit is planned to be held in Syracuse, New York, and although it is unknown how large of an audience will be invited due to COVID-19 safety practices, the competition and Symposium will continue and prize money will be awarded to startups.  

“Because we are, and will remain, in total adherence with New York State’s safety guidelines, changes over the next few months may require us to adapt our plans,” said Grow-NY Program Director, Jenn Smith. “Round two of the competition is moving forward. Changing health and safety conditions may affect our ability to convene the finalists, judges, and panelists in Syracuse, in which case we will adapt the pitch and Symposium to be entirely virtual productions. This press briefing itself is an example of the agility with which we are approaching our activities.”   

During the briefing, past competition winners, Dan Wise (CEO, RealEats America), Aliya LeeKong (Head of Culinary, RealEats America), Michele Liddle (Owner, Perfect Granola), and Adam Fine (Founder and CTO, Dropcopter), shared their insights on how Grow-NY is helping build strong businesses in the Grow-NY region, comprised of the Finger Lakes, Central New York, and the Southern Tier.   

RealEats America, a premium meal prep delivery service that sources ingredients from small farms within a 200-mile radius, took home last year’s $1 million grand prize after being encouraged by colleagues at the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech. Based in Geneva, New York, the startup has expanded since its win, employing over 50 workers, in addition to opening many temporary positions due to increased demand for their meal delivery service during the pandemic.   

“We’re really supporting the ecosystem and the farms that are around us, and we’re also delivering food to the centers of concern. We’ve really created a nice system up there of production and distribution that is lock and step with New York State,” said LeeKong. “I really think that Grow-NY is poised to become that check mark of sorts for many businesses in the region, or businesses that want to invest in the region.” 

For Adam Fine, founder and CTO of Syracuse-based startup Dropcopter, which won $500K at last year’s Grow-NY, the competition experience yielded a lot more than the prize money.   

“The network through Grow-NY, to Cornell specifically, was instrumental for us. We had been trying to work on a project with Cornell for a long time, since we came to Syracuse, and bridging that gap has always been difficult, to get the research we wanted to do started. We’ve done some independent research ourselves but getting the work with Cornell has always been the key to unlocking the industries we work in, so now we’re doing that and that was a big part of what we wanted to get out of Grow-NY,” said Fine.  

Applications will be accepted through July 15 for this year’s Grow-NY food and agriculture business competition. The recording of the Grow-NY virtual briefing can be viewed online: 

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