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RealEats wins $1M top prize in Grow-NY business competition

RealEats, a Geneva, New York-based company that delivers freshly made meals using locally sourced ingredients, has been named winner of the $1 million grand prize in the inaugural Grow-NY business competition.

Dan Wise, left, founder and CEO of RealEats, is pictured Nov. 13 in Rochester with Lt. Gov Kathy Hochul and RealEats partners Aliya LeeKong and Keith Lydon after the Geneva-based meal delivery business won the Grow NY startup competition, and the $1 million top prize.

RealEats was one of seven finalists to take home prize money during the Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit, held Nov. 12-13 at the Joseph A. Floreano Riverside Convention Center in Rochester. The competition, which will also be held in 2020 and 2021, was administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

Cornell impacting New York State

“We are so thrilled to have won this prize money and are so thankful to New York state for this opportunity,” said Dan Wise, founder and CEO of RealEats. “With this prize, we will be able to leverage the amazing resources in the region to take our startup to the next level.”

Funded by Empire State Development, Grow-NY is a food innovation and agriculture technology startup challenge focused on enhancing the emerging food, beverage and agriculture innovation cluster in central New York, the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier, known collectively as the Grow-NY region.

In addition to the top prize, two $500,000 prize and four $250,000 prizes were awarded during closing ceremonies of the two-day event. Other winners, including three based on Cornell technologies:

  • $500,000: Dropcopter – Syracuse, aerial pollination for agriculture; and Tiliter – Munich, Germany, product recognition system for grocers, consumers;
  • $250,000: Capro-X – Ithaca (Cornell), acid whey waste remediation for dairy producers; CombPlex – Ithaca (Cornell), varroa mite solution for beekeepers; Whole Healthy Food – Ithaca (Cornell), high-carb, low-calorie natural food; and The Perfect Granola – Victor, New York, philanthropic natural food company.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in congratulating the winning team and all the finalists, stressed the importance of the competition in growing business in all corners of upstate New York.

“This targeted investment not only helps these dynamic companies establish themselves in New York state, but supports New York’s regional agricultural economy,” Cuomo said. “RealEats represents the initiatives that will create a lasting economic impact on New York’s agribusiness.”

Seventeen startup teams pitched their business plans to a live audience and panel of judges during the summit, which attracted more than 900 attendees and featured more than 70 food and agricultural exhibitors. Also featured were panel sessions tackling some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the industry today.

“The Grow-NY competition exceeded every benchmark we set for this inaugural year, and the summit event served as an unprecedented celebration of the vibrant food and ag innovation cluster growing in upstate New York,” said Tom Schryver, CREA executive director. “The quality of the startup competitors was truly incredible and there is no doubt that this first year has showcased to the world that the central New York, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions are a top place for food and ag innovation to thrive.”

“We’re grateful to Gov. Cuomo for supporting the growth of the food and ag ecosystem in the Grow-NY region, and to Empire State Development and the central New York, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions for partnering with us so that this competition can shine a light on the world-leading hub of food and ag innovation growing and fueling New York’s economy,” said Jenn Smith, director of the Grow-NY program.

Danny Wegman, chairman of Wegmans Food Markets, served as the keynote speaker; Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul delivered closing remarks during the awards ceremony.

Hochul said this inaugural competition bodes well for emerging business in the state.

“The agricultural economy in New York continues to grow with increased investment in our farms and local products,” she said. “These companies are developing ideas and plans to revolutionize the industry by transforming sustainability and improving the health and well-being of New Yorkers. … [W]e look forward to helping these innovative companies grow and thrive in New York.”

Nearly 200 startup companies applied to this year’s competition, including entrants from North America, Europe, Central America, Africa, the Middle East and New Zealand. In the U.S., 23 states were represented, including 112 entries from New York.

Among those indicating gender, females comprised 32% of applicants; among those indicating ethnicity, 46% were non-white.

All 17 finalists received dedicated mentorship, including pitch training, from regional business advisers leading up to the competition. The finalists were all awarded a multiday trip to the Grow-NY region to meet with potential partners, customers, manufacturers and producers.

One of the terms of the competition is that Grow-NY winners must commit to operating in the Grow-NY region for at least one year.

Applications for the next round of the competition will open April 1, 2020. Next year’s Grow-NY Summit will be held Nov. 17-18, 2020, in Syracuse.

Molly Israel is director of marketing and communications for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

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Lindsey Hadlock