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Grow-NY startups pioneer food and ag innovations

From fully autonomous berry harvesters to plant-based lupini bean protein bars, the startups competing for $3 million in prize money at this year’s Grow-NY Food and Agriculture Competition are bringing revolutionary innovations to market.

Currently in its third year, Grow-NY is a global business competition that seeks to bring innovative food and agriculture startups to New York state, particularly the Central New York, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions. Funded by Empire State Development and powered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, prizewinners are required to make a positive economic impact in the region.

Cornell impacting New York State

Twenty finalists were selected from the 330 startups that applied to the third round of the competition. Over the next several weeks, the finalists will receive personalized one-to-one mentorship from industry experts, business development support and networking introductions. Then they’ll pitch their startups to a live audience in November at the Grow-NY Summit. Four winners will walk away with $250,000; two with $500,000; and one grand-prize winner will receive $1 million.

“Round three of the Grow-NY business competition has once again attracted a group of exceptional startups and entrepreneurial talent from around the world,” said Kevin Younis, Empire State Development chief operating officer and executive deputy commissioner. “Through this competition, New York state continues its dedicated, focused efforts to support agriculture innovation that will create jobs and grow the Central New York, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier economies.”

Ten of this year’s finalists have connections to the Cornell community, including:

  • Agri-Trak (Williamson, New York): Developed for the apple industry, this farm management application suite startup was founded by Jamie Sonneville ’04, MPS ’06, and advised by Alison DeMarree of the Cornell Cooperative Extension.
  • Ascribe Bioscience (Ithaca, New York): Co-founded by researchers at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) and Cornell, CEO Jay Farmer, Ph.D. ’98, and CTO Murli Manohar, Ascribe Bioscience develops cost-effective natural products that enable farmers to combat crop pathogens without harming the environment or human health. The technology was developed in the labs of Frank Schroeder, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at BTI and the College of Arts and Sciences, and Daniel Klessig, professor of plant pathology at BTI and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The company is incubating at Cornell's McGovern Center.
  • Beemunity (New York City): James Webb, M.S. ‘20, is the CEO of Beemunity, a startup using microparticle detoxification to provide solutions that protect and preserve pollinator species. Testing of Beemunity’s tech was carried out at Cornell.
  • Foodnerd (Buffalo): With a C-suite full of Cornell graduates, including head food scientist Richard DelPlato ‘17, Foodnerd is on a mission to create positively processed and nutritious plant-based food. The startup is working with Cornell to explore manufacturing techniques and run various safety tests.
  • Heat Inverse (Ithaca): Founder and CEO Romy Fain, Ph.D. ‘17, has worked with the Cornell Center for Materials Research to conduct third-party validation of the key metrics surrounding the photonic metamaterial that Heat Inverse developed to revolutionize cooling technologies in agriculture and food production. Heat Inverse is also a member company at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, a business incubator supported by Cornell, and is a graduate of the Rev Hardware Prototyping Accelerator.
  • Lupii (Brooklyn): Led by CEO Isabelle Steinchen, who received a certificate in plant-based nutrition from eCornell, Lupii is taking the power of the lupini bean and creating Lupii Bars, unique, whole bean-based vegan protein bars that are one of the first of their kind on the market.
  • Nutreat (Geneva, New York): Nutreat has been heavily involved in different Cornell departments throughout the development of its low glycemic, healthy sweet snacks. Advised by Bruno Xavier, associate director at Cornell's Food Venture Center (FVC), Nutreat is currently in production at the Cornell FVC pilot plant, and conducted research and development with undergraduates at the Cornell AgriTech Campus.
  • Persistent BioControl (Austin, Texas): Persistent Biocontrol’s technology, which produces biocontrol nematodes that attack, kill, and multiply inside Western Corn Rootworm larvae before they damage crop yield, was inspired by the work of Elson Shield, professor in the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The technology was developed by the lab of Elson Shields, professor of entomology.
  • Pheronym (Davis, California): Advised by Pam Marrone ‘78, former staff and Board of Trustees member, Pheronym is using pheromones to control the behavior and development of microscopic roundworms called nematodes, offering a nontoxic path for farmers as they transition away from conventional pesticides.
  • WeRadiate (Rochester, New York): A turnkey solution to improve soil quality using hardware, software and data technology, WeRadiate is a graduate of various Rev: Ithaca Startup Works’ programs, including the Hardware Scaleup Accelerator.

This year’s Grow-NY Summit, featuring a pitch competition, educational symposium, a Summit Showcase with services for startups and awards ceremony, will be held Nov. 16-17 at the Syracuse Oncenter, and available to stream virtually. All-access registration is $45, $25 for students, and virtual registration is free. To register, and for more information on the Grow-NY Summit, visit grow-ny.com.

Grace Collins is a writer for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

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Jeffrey Martin