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  • Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture
  • Cornell AgriTech
Of the 20 finalists picked from the 385 startups that applied for the annual food and agriculture business competition, nine have worked with the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture.

Twenty startup companies from around the world were selected as finalists in year four of Grow-NY, a food and agriculture business competition that focuses on strengthening agriculture innovation in Central New York, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions in Upstate New York. 

Of those 20 startups, the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech (COE) has already worked with nearly half of the finalists, including:

“The COE is a leading force in growing food and agriculture businesses in New York,” said COE Executive Director Cathy Young. “That so many of our member companies were chosen as Grow-NY finalists is a testament to the work we do to help startups launch and prosper.”

The COE's worldwide impact

Two of the nine finalists the COE has worked with are based outside the United States, an indication both to the reach of Grow-NY and the COE, as well as the resources and opportunities available for food and agriculture businesses in the 22-county Grow-NY region. 

All told, 385 startup companies from 25 states and 52 countries applied for this year's Grow-NY competition, which is now in its fourth year. For the first time in competition history, international applications exceeded the number of U.S.-based applications. Of the 92 entries from New York, 34% were from the Grow-NY region, 38% included a female founder and a record 75% included a founder from an underrepresented minority group. 

“For the fourth-consecutive year, Grow-NY broke its own record for applications, but what is most energizing is the composition of startups that applied to make their mark in the thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem in Upstate New York," said Jenn Smith, Grow-NY program director. "The strength of our region’s agrifood system continues to grow, and this year’s finalists are pushing traditional boundaries, introducing technologies that increase growing efficiency, create novel foods, and address an array of pressing issues."

A history of success

The COE mentors its member companies through each step of the Grow-NY process, including helping companies prepare their initial application, connecting finalists with industry leaders and helping fine-tune their pitches in advance of the awards summit - during which $3 million will be awarded to seven winning companies. 

Young said she’s thrilled to see so many COE member companies chosen as finalists, but stressed that the COE is eager to assist all 20 finalists. The COE has already connected with many of the other finalists as they prepare for the judging summit, which will be held Nov. 15 and 16 at the Oncenter Convention Center in Syracuse.

“We are very enthused to help all Grow-NY finalists," Young said. "Our mission is to help food, beverage and ag-tech businesses grow in New York, and all of the finalists have tremendous potential for much success, not only in the competition but as a thriving company in the future.”

This aid has helped many COE member companies be named finalists and award winners at past Grow-NY competitions. Of the seven winners of the 2021 competition, six of the startups began working with the COE either before the competition or after they were named one of the 20 finalists. 

Leep Foods/Empire Medicinals, a Rochester-based company producing mushrooms for culinary and medicinal products, began working with the COE in 2019. The company later won $250,000 at the 2020 Grow-NY competition and in the fall of 2021, became the first company to license lab space with the COE at the Cornell AgriTech campus in Geneva. 

Geneva-based RealEats similarly began working with the COE in 2019. With the support of the COE and Cornell AgriTech, RealEats took home the top prize of $1 million at the first-ever Grow-NY competition later that year. The meal delivery company went on to raise over $16 million in investments as part of its nationwide expansion and in June 2022, the company moved into its new 80,000-square-foot production facility in Geneva. 

Cornell's role

The Grow-NY competition is administered by Empire State Development (ESD) and Cornell University's Center for Regional Economic Advancement (CREA). Along with the pitches from the finalists, the two-day summit will also feature a symposium based around Cornell's 2030 Project that will explore the future of sustainable agriculture and offer practical applications for new research in the continued effort to combat climate change. 

The finalists will pitch at the summit in Syracuse on Nov. 15 and 16. Register for the summit. 

“The Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences community is inspired by the food and agriculture technology innovations that Grow-NY has drawn into Upstate New York’s innovation ecosystem,” said Benjamin Z. Houlton, the Ronald P. Lynch dean of Cornell CALS. “Cornell CALS is ready to leverage our strengths in research and development to help this year’s cohort of startups fulfill their potential to improve the health, food, economy, and environment of our interconnected world by developing their business right here in our region.” 

Jacob Pucci is the marketing and communications coordinator for the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech. Follow the COE on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

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