A New York-based startup competition begins its fifth year with impressive momentum, having garnered applications and interest from over a thousand businesses in 41 unique states and 46 countries outside of the United States 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 program delivers to finalists.

Grow-NY Returns for its 5th Year, Accepting Applications Now

Empire State Development (ESD) announced on April 3rd that the application window is now open for round five of the Grow-NY food and agriculture competition. Grow-NY, a unique 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.


Read More: Plant-Based Milk Company From Kingston Finalist In Global Contest

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.

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 program comes through Empire State Development from the Upstate Revitalization 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.

Previous Winners of Grow-NY

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 U.S.

Allison Usavage
Allison Usavage

Last year, three of the seven winners of the Grow-NY Business Competition were from New York State (Craft Cannery of Bergen, NY; Sweet Pea of Rochester, NY; and Zalliant of Amsterdam, NY), enhancing innovation in the food and agriculture industry right in our backyard. Leep Foods, a Year Three winner, is an organic mushroom farm that uses regenerative practices to grow specialty mushrooms on American hardwoods. Since winning, Leep Foods has partnered with Hannaford Supermarkets to bring their mushrooms to Central Upstate New York, as well as expanded their product offering with items like blended burgers and sausages. We’d love for more NYS entrepreneurs to take advantage of this opportunity to collaborate with other innovators and leave their mark on the food and agriculture industry worldwide.

Read More: Kingston Plant-Based Milk Company in the Running for $1 Million

In addition to emphasizing innovation and scalability, the Grow-NY program 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.

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How Judging for Grow-NY 2023 Will Work

  • 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, 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; and
  • Regional Job Creation – the potential for creating high-quality jobs in the Grow-NY footprint and relevance to the existing food and ag ecosystem.

Application Due Dates for Grow-NY

Applications must be submitted by 5 p.m. 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 organizations that serve startups working in food and ag, and a student stage where middle and high school aged New Yorkers will pitch their agriculture 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.

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