Empire State Development announces application window opens for round 5 of Grow-NY competition

Empire State Development (ESD) has announced that the application window is now open for round five of the Grow-NY food and agriculture competition. Grow-NY, an initiative that connects innovators and investors in the food, beverage, and agriculture sectors locally and around the globe, has resulted in economic growth and entrepreneurial opportunity in upstate New York.

The Grow-NY region, a 22-county area spanning Central New York, the Finger Lakes, and the Southern Tier, has already seen the addition of more than 200 new jobs and millions of dollars in follow-on investment as a result of the competition. Grow-NY attracts high-growth food and agriculture startups to compete for $3 million in total prize money each year and supports 20 finalists through a business development phase that connects them with the region’s resources.

Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Hope Knight said: “The fifth round of the Grow-NY agribusiness accelerator will help to build on the incredible success of earlier competition winners whose entrepreneurial ideas are fueling economic growth Upstate. These innovative companies have attracted significant investment throughout the Grow-NY region and around the world, and I can’t wait to see what the next crop of selected, forward-thinking entrepreneurs will bring to the table. “

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said: “The Grow-NY food and agriculture competition helps to boost our upstate economy and spread the word that New York State is a great place to make some of the best, freshest, most innovative products in the world. I thank Governor Hochul for her continued support of this initiative and encourage businesses big and small to apply for round five and show us the agricultural products of the future.”

Winners are required to commit to operating in at least one of the 22 Grow-NY counties for at least 12 months and must agree to a “pay-it-forward” provision in the form of an equity agreement. 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 publicity support to announce their achievements across the Grow-NY region and in their home regions. Funding for the programme comes through Empire State Development from the Upstate Revitalisation Initiative’s three regional entities, CNY Rising, Finger Lakes Forward, and Southern Tier Soaring, and is administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Benjamin Z. Houlton said: “As New York's Land-Grant university, Cornell is dedicated to sharing research and discoveries with communities across our state and worldwide. We are proud to support the Grow-NY competition and the innovation it brings to New York State – a highly dynamic and diverse agricultural leader. Our partnership with Grow-NY underscores our mutual commitment to sustainable food systems that tackle New York's biggest challenges.”

The startup competition begins its fifth year with impressive momentum, having garnered applications and interest from over a thousand businesses in 41 states and 46 countries outside of the US over the last four years. In all, 79 startups have participated as finalists, with 28 winners sharing $12 million in startup funding as well as the invaluable mentorship and networking benefits that the programme delivers to finalists.

Past Grow-NY winners have continued to raise money, expand, and succeed. Soos, Year Two grand prize winner, set up and staffed an R&D facility at a poultry farm in Central NY, and is working with technicians in collaboration with Syracuse University to expand their technology. Year Three grand prize winner, Every Body Eat, is on the shelves of Whole Foods Market stores around the United States, while $500,000 Year Four winner, Hempitecture, recently became the first company to open an industrial hemp manufacturing facility in the US.

In addition to emphasising innovation and scalability, the Grow-NY programme is focused on drawing more diverse leaders to the region by reaching communities that have historically been left out of the innovation economy. In 2022, 75% of the 390 applicants included a founder from an underrepresented minority group, and 38% included a female founder.

“After four rounds of competition, the Grow-NY effect has resulted in the addition of hundreds of new jobs, the revitalisation of commercial space, the development of agrifood infrastructure, and the follow-on of over $82 million in new investor activity lifting the critical ag sector throughout the region. It goes beyond the startups in our portfolio, and beyond even the food and farming communities, to lift businesses small and large throughout the region” said Grow-NY Programme Director, Jenn Smith.

Applications must be submitted by 5pm ET on Thursday, June 15. In August, 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 an expenses-paid, three-day business development trip to the region for up to two team members.

The selected finalists will present their business plans during the Grow-NY Summit, Tuesday, November 14 - Wednesday, November 15 in Binghamton, New York, alongside a symposium of panel conversations and keynotes, a showcase of agencies, companies, research groups, and other organisations that serve startups working in food and ag, and a student stage where middle and high school aged New Yorkers will pitch their ag and food tech ideas.

New this year, the Summit will also include a Dairy Innovation Showcase featuring participants in the Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition, also currently accepting applications.

Judges will base award decisions on the following five criteria

  • Viability of Commercialisation 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, diversity, and readiness within the team of founders, employees, and advisors; inclusion or plans for inclusion of employees and advisors from communities that have historically been excluded from the innovation economy, such as women and minorities.
  • 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.
  • Growth - ability to generate significant growth, as measured and assessed by employment and revenue growth and the potential for returns and liquidity for equity holders.
  • 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 over 40% of New York’s 33,438 farms, includes an abundance of vibrant, fertile lands along with such major urban population centres as Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca, and Binghamton.