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Application period is open for $3M Grow-NY food and agribusiness competition

By Eric Reinhardt

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New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on May 31 announced the start of the Grow-NY competition during an event held in Rochester. Grow-NY is a $3 million business competition focused on “enhancing the emerging food and agriculture-innovation cluster” in the Finger Lakes, Central New York, and the Southern Tier regions. (PHOTO CREDIT: The Martin Group)

Food and agricultural startups have until July 15 to apply for consideration in the first year of the Grow-NY initiative. 

New York and Cornell University have launched the program, described as a $3 million business competition focused on “enhancing the emerging food and agriculture-innovation cluster” in the Finger Lakes, Central New York, and the Southern Tier regions. 

State and Cornell officials contend that it will attract “high-growth food and agriculture startups from around the world and engage them in the region’s rapidly expanding startup and innovation ecosystem,” per a May 31 news release. 

Those interested can apply through the Grow-NY website.

Entrants will compete to win up to 

$1 million each year during the program’s initial three- year run, with finalists pitching their ideas and business plans in November as they compete for the grand prize.

Finalists will pitch their ideas and business plans at the Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit on Nov. 12-13 at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.

State and Cornell officials on May 31 announced the program in Rochester. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was on hand.

“New York’s agricultural industry is one of the best in world, and the Grow-NY competition will attract innovative start-ups focused on this industry to put down roots in upstate New York,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in the release. “By bringing in new companies to find new ways to transform our state’s food and agricultural industry, we are continuing to bolster these regional economies and foster growth in this critical industry statewide.”

Empire State Development is funding the competition through its Upstate Revitalization Initiative, and Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement will administer it. 

It will require the contest winners to operate in the Grow-NY region, “grow jobs, connect with local industry partners and contribute to a thriving Upstate economy,” per the release. 

How Grow-NY works

The Grow-NY region includes a “broad swath” of upstate New York farmlands and urban centers, including Syracuse, Binghamton, Ithaca, and Rochester.

It includes 22 counties in three regions, including Central New York (Onondaga, Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, and Oswego); Southern Tier (Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Delaware, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, and Tompkins); and Finger Lakes (Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Orleans, Ontario, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates).

New York and Cornell anticipate the competition will produce up to 20 finalists. The program will provide those finalists mentorship from a hand-selected business advisor; additional pitch training to hone their live pitches for the judges; an expenses-paid, three-day business-development trip to the Grow-NY region for up to two finalists per team; and networking introductions, business tours with potential partners, and “valuable appointments” for finalist team representatives.

In each of the next three years, Grow-NY will award a total of $3 million in prize money to seven winners, “all payable in stages, based on business milestones.” This includes a $1 million top prize, two $500,000 prizes, and four $250,000 in prizes. Tax incentives will also be included.

“A panel of judges will review all of the applications, and all finalists will pitch their business ideas and plans to a live audience and judges during the final competition phase,” Tom Schryver, executive director of Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, said. “Each pitch will be followed by a brief question-and-answer period. After all pitches are complete, the judges will announce the winners.”     

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