The application window for the 2021 Grow-NY business competition is now open. Grow-NY is a unique initiative that connects innovators and investors in food, beverage and agriculture.
The startup competition, in its third year, has garnered more than 460 applications from businesses in 32 states and 37 countries over the past two years. In all, 37 finalists have been selected with 14 winners sharing in $6 million in startup funding, as well as the invaluable mentorship and networking benefits that Grow-NY delivers to finalists across its 22-county area spanning central New York, the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier.
High-growth food and agriculture startups from around the world compete for $3 million in total prize money each year. Winners also engage with supply chain partners to create many indirect opportunities in agriculture, distribution, food processing, manufacturing and beyond.
Grow-NY also is 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.
Empire State Development is once again funding this year’s competition, with economic development support from the Upstate Revitalization Initiative’s three regional entities: CNY Rising, Finger Lakes Forward and Southern Tier Soaring. Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement team will once again manage and administer the event.
“This third round of Grow-NY will build on the success of prior competition winners whose entrepreneurial spirit is fueling economic growth,” says Eric Gertler, acting commissioner and president and CEO of Empire State Development.
“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.”
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 also will receive tax incentives and publicity support to announce their achievements across the Grow-NY region and in their home regions.
Applications must be submitted by 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 on Nov. 16-17, which will be a hybrid — in-person and virtual — event broadcast live from Syracuse.
Judges will base award decisions on the following 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 among the founders, employees and advisers of the business that will allow the team to deliver on its potential.
Customer value. The degree to which the entrant is providing something that customers are willing to pay for 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 New York’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.
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.
Prizes are distributed through a contract with provisions tied to operating in at least one of the 22 Grow-NY counties for at least 12 months. There also is a “pay-it-forward” provision in the form of an equity warrant, or simple agreement for future equity.
Prizes will be paid in stages based on milestones reached such as jobs created, partnerships formed and localized operations achievements. To see the full agreement, timelines and eligibility criteria, visit grow-ny.com.
Cornell University has released a first-of-its-kind report that’s designed to guide inventors and investors toward urgent technology needs within New York’s vast farming and food processing industries, as identified by dozens of farmers, manufacturers, retailers, researchers and other key stakeholders.
The goal of the report is to foster regionalization and diversity in these industries by offering evidence-based recommendations and guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs looking for opportunities in the agriculture, processing and distribution spaces.
The study and report are a collaboration between Cornell’s Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture, and the Grow-NY program at Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.