Empire State Development (ESD) announced that the application window is now open for the 2022 Grow-NY food and agriculture competition. Grow-NY is an initiative that connects innovators and investors in the food, beverage and agriculture sectors locally and around the globe. 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.
“This fourth round of Grow-NY will further build on the success of earlier competition winners, whose entrepreneurial ideas are fueling economic growth Upstate. These innovative companies have attracted significant investment and are seeding the ground for even more innovation, both throughout the Grow-NY region and around the world, said Empire State Development president, CEO and Commissioner Hope Knight.
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 “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 tax incentives and publicity support to announce their achievements across the Grow-NY region and in their home regions.
The startup competition begins its fourth year having garnered applications and interest from more than a thousand businesses in 32 unique states and 37 other countries over the last three years. In all, 59 finalists have been selected to date, with 21 winners sharing $9 million in startup funding as well as the invaluable mentorship and networking benefits which the program delivers to finalists.
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 2021, 51% of the 330 applicants included a founder from an underrepresented minority group, and 44% included a female founder.
“We are looking for food and ag innovators that operate at any point in the agrifood system that demonstrate a value to customers, an ability to grow quickly and sustainably, and diversity within their founding team,“ said Grow-NY program director Jenn Smith.
Applications must be submitted by Friday, July 1. 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.
Judges will base award decisions on the following five 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, 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;
- Regional Job Creation – the potential for creating high-quality jobs in the Grow-NY footprint and relevance to the existing food and ag ecosystem; and
The Grow-NY region, which hosts over 40 percent of New York’s 33,438 farms, is a 22-county region comprised of the following three areas:
- Finger Lakes – Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Orleans, Ontario, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates
- Central New York – Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego
- Southern Tier – Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Delaware, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins