Application Window Open for Round III of $3 Million Grow-NY Food and Agriculture Business Competition

Empire State Development (ESD) today announced that the application window for the 2021 Grow-NY business competition is now open and is accepting submissions. Grow-NY, an unprecedented business competition, focuses on enhancing the emerging food and agriculture innovation cluster currently present in Central New York, the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier regions of New York state. The transformative competition attracts high-growth food and agriculture startups from around the world and across the state where they will compete for a combined total of $3 million in prize money. Applications will be accepted through July 15, 2021. From the applications submitted, up to 20 finalists will be selected. ESD is funding the competition through Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative connected with the three regions— CNY Rising, Finger Lakes Forward and Southern Tier Soaring. The competition is administered by Cornell University through its Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

“The Grow-NY competition brings together the best entrepreneurial minds in the world to boost job growth and make our agricultural industry even stronger in New York State,” said New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “While we continue to build back better for a more sustainable post-pandemic future, round 3 of the Grow-NY competition will bring investment and opportunity to New York’s farmers and rural communities.” 

The startup competition begins its third year with impressive momentum, having garnered more than 460 applications from businesses originating in 32 unique states and 37 other countries over the last two years. In all, 37 finalists have been selected to date, with 14 winners sharing in $6 million in start-up funding as well as the invaluable mentorship and networking benefits which Grow-NY delivers to finalists across its 22-county area.

“This third round of Grow-NY will build on the success of prior competition winners whose entrepreneurial spirit is fueling economic growth,” said Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO Eric Gertler. “These innovative companies have attracted significant investment, including $11 million in follow-on funding from successful Series A rounds and National Science Foundation grants, that in turn is helping to lay a foundation for even more opportunities throughout the Grow-NY region and around the world.”

Winners are required to contribute to a thriving Upstate economy in the Grow-NY region through innovation, job creation and industry ecosystem development and commit to operating in at least one of the 22 Grow-NY counties for at least 12 months. One finalist will receive a top prize of $1 million; two others will be awarded $500,000 prizes, and four more will be given $250,000 prizes. Winners will also receive tax incentives and publicity support to announce their achievements across the Grow-NY region and in their home regions.

The program has already generated dozens of new jobs, having attracted high-growth food and agriculture startups from around the world. Winners have also engaged with supply chain partners to create many indirect opportunities in agriculture, distribution, food processing, manufacturing and beyond. Round I, million-dollar, first place winner Real Eats has been named as a top meal delivery service by Forbes, and now employs dozens of people from the Grow-NY region.  The competition is also attracting more diverse leaders to the region, as 29% of 2020’s applicants included a female founder and 32% included a founder from an underrepresented minority group.

“As a premier institution of scientific learning and discovery, Cornell is a world leader in tackling complex challenges through our culture of interdisciplinary understanding and collaboration,” said Benjamin Z. Houlton, Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Grow-NY epitomizes that culture, connecting the world to Upstate New York and vice versa, and it’s an honor to be part of the team that leads this truly transformative initiative.”

Applications must be submitted by Thursday, July 15. In September, up to 20 finalists will be assigned mentors and enter the business development phase. All finalists will receive bespoke entrepreneurial support and valuable regional introductions, additional training to hone their live pitches, and barring travel restrictions, will join an expenses-paid, three-day business development trip to the region for up to two team members. The finalists will then present their business plans during the Grow-NY Summit, Nov. 16- 17, which this year will be a hybrid (in-person and virtual) event broadcast live from Syracuse, N.Y.

“We’ve generated international recognition for our region, with applications and media coverage from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and South America,” said Grow-NY Program Director Jenn Smith. “Literally thousands of innovators, entrepreneurs and investors from all over the world have been made aware of our agriculture and food processing expertise in the Central New York, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions, boosting our industry, academic, and R&D resources along the way.”

Judges will base award decisions on the following five criteria:

  • Viability of Commercialization and Business Model – the potential for the entrant to generate revenue and maintain a cost structure that allows for a competitive and sustainable business, demonstrate technological readiness or innovate to fulfill its value proposition;
  • Team– demonstration of a level of cohesion, completeness, and readiness within, and diversity and inclusion amongst the founders, employees, and advisors of the business that will allow the team to deliver on its potential;
  • Customer Value – the degree to which the entrant is providing something for which customers are willing to pay, and addressing a substantial market;
  • Food and Agriculture Innovation – the extent to which the entrant is pushing what’s considered state-of-the-art in the food and agriculture industries, and contributing to Upstate NY’s status as a global leader in innovation in these markets;
  • Regional Job Creation – the potential for creating high-quality jobs in the Grow-NY footprint and relevance to the existing food and ag ecosystem; and

The Grow-NY region, which hosts 43.7% of New York’s 33,438 farms, includes an abundance of vibrant, fertile lands along with such major urban centers as Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca and Binghamton. It is a 22-county region comprised of the following three areas:

  • Finger Lakes – Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Orleans, Ontario, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates 
  • Central New York – Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego
  • Southern Tier – Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Delaware, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins

NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “The Grow-NY competition has had incredible success since its launch, shining the spotlight on New York agriculture and encouraging innovation and creativity across the sector as well as diversity in leadership.  We have a great story to tell about the hard working farmers and food and beverage business owners who contribute to one of the nation’s leading agricultural communities and about the opportunities for growth within the industry right here in New York State.  As we continue to recover and rebuild from the pandemic, Round 3 of Grow-NY will provide much needed investment and job growth, and I look forward to seeing the projects that will be submitted in 2021.”

Central New York Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chairs Randy Wolken, President & CEO of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, and Deborah Stanley, President of the State University of New York at Oswego said, “New York State continues to experience unprecedented growth in the agriculture and food industries and we are really looking forward to serving as host for this year’s exciting the Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit in November. This competition represents yet another exciting investment in our community that will further bolster regional job growth and further support our agricultural base throughout Central New York ensuring the region continues to rise.”

Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Co-Chair Bob Duffy, President and CEO, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and Denise Battles, President SUNY Geneseo said, “The regional council is proud to support round three of the innovative Grow-NY competition. Our agricultural and food industries are truly world class and both their products and innovations are huge economic drivers for our state and region. Connecting the cutting-edge ideas of these entrepreneur teams with local industry partners supports the multi-pronged approach laid out in the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative, which is working to create a thriving regional economy.”

Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chair Judy McKinney Cherry, Executive Director, Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) and Broome Community College President Kevin Drumm said, “New York’s agriculture industry is one of the most prestigious and productive in the nation.  This initiative, with its investment in the region, adds great value to the Southern Tier’s continued economic success in the ag sector. The Grow-NY competition enables innovative and competitive businesses to showcase their strengths and will further our efforts to bolster the regional economy ultimately helping the Southern Tier to soar.”

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