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Close-up of drone mid-air
DRONE OPPORTUNITY: The Grow-NY is helping fund agribusiness startups in upstate New York. Drone startups might be good candidates since the state has one of seven FFA-approved drone test sites in the country.

New York is looking for agribusiness job creators

The Grow-NY competition will fund agribusiness startups that create jobs in the state.

A competition that will help fund agribusiness startup clusters in New York state is taking applications through July 15.

The Grow-NY program will distribute $3 million in awards each year through 2021 — including a $1 million award, two $500,000 awards and four $250,000 awards — to agribusiness and food startups in the Finger Lakes, central New York and Southern Tier. In return, the startups are required to operate in these regions for at least a year and execute plans for creating jobs.

Funding for Grow-NY is provided through Empire State Development and the Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

Tom Schryver, executive director of the Center for Regional Economic Advancement, says the program will be one of the largest agribusiness and food competitions in the nation.

“A lot of research has been done that shows that when these businesses cluster together, they will succeed better,” Schryver says.

The competition is modeled after other business incentive programs in the state where winning businesses are awarded money and connected to industry mentors and other resources. In return, the businesses pledge to stay in the state for at least a year and to create jobs.

One example is the 76West Clean Energy Competition, which just finished up its third year last fall and has awarded funds to 18 startups. The 12 winners from the first two rounds have raised $28 million in private capital and spent more than $1.7 million on key suppliers in the Southern Tier to date, according to the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council.

Of the 18 winners, 17 still operate in the state, and the competition attracted 440 applicants from around the world, according to the council.

Ag job creators wanted

“Within food and ag, we’re looking for anything in the domain, farm to fork,” Schryver says. “We’re looking for things with high growth potential, with job creation potential.”

An example he pointed to is Chobani, which changed the yogurt industry with its highly popular Greek yogurt.

Other examples could be a company with a unique seed coating or a company that’s testing a new type of drone.

Schryver says the region has lots of resources for potential startups, including the Cornell Food Venture Center that helps food companies with formulation and safety issues, and the nearby New York UAS Test Site, one of seven FFA-designated unmanned aerial flight research centers in the country.

“One of the ways that we've designed the competition is all of the finalists will be hooked with a mentor, kind of a regional guide," he says.

A panel of judges will trim the applications down to about 20 finalists who will receive mentorship and a curated, complimentary business development trip spanning the three regions this summer.

Finalists will pitch their business ideas at the Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit from Nov. 12-13 at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The summit will include the live pitch competition, an awards ceremony announcing the winners, a symposium hosted by the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture, and an exhibition featuring more than 100 innovative food and ag companies.

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