Cornell-led Grow-NY contest boosts NYS food, ag startups
By Grace Collins
The mood was celebratory and “We Are the Champions” played over the speakers in the Syracuse Oncenter as Every Body Eat took home $1 million in the third annual Grow-NY Food and Agriculture Competition, led by Cornell.
The Chicago-based startup, which produces food free of the 14 most common allergens, is working to create food that people can enjoy together, regardless of dietary restrictions or preferences.
Grow-NY, funded by Empire State Development, is a unique business competition on a mission to bring jobs and dollars to the agrifood ecosystem in the Grow-NY Region – which consists of Central New York, the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier. Three hundred and thirty food and ag startups from around the globe applied to compete, and the best of the best were selected to receive individualized mentorship and introductions to resources and potential partners in Upstate New York, all managed by Cornell’s Grow-NY program leaders.
More than 1,200 people registered to attend the Grow-NY Food & Ag Summit, held virtually and in-person Nov. 16 and 17, where the 20 startup finalists pitched to a panel of judges and competed for a total of $3 million in prize money. In addition to the pitches, attendees engaged with a series of panels and fireside chats covering the most pressing topics facing the food and agriculture industry.
“We are absolutely honored to be selected – from such an incredible pool of food and agriculture startups – as this year’s $1 million top prize winner at Grow-NY,” said Nichole Wilson of Every Body Eat. “We look forward to leveraging this award and all of the connections we have made in the region to take Every Body Eat to the next level, expand our market, and hire more talent. We’re excited to further our mission of bringing people together over food.”
In addition to Every Body Eat, six other food and agritech startups were awarded six-figure prizes. The two second-place $500,000 prizes went to Ascribe Bioscience, a biopesticide solution business fighting crop loss in Ithaca; as well as Neupeak Robotics, a robotic fruit and vegetable harvester being created in Vancouver, British Columbia. Four $250,000 prizes were awarded to DraughtLab (Rochester, New York); EmGenisys (Houston, Texas); Nordetect (Copenhagen, Denmark); and WeRadiate (Buffalo).
As a condition of receiving prize money, these seven startups must leverage and embrace the unique startup resources and opportunities in the Grow-NY region to make a positive economic impact. This can be anything from establishing headquarters in the Grow-NY region and hiring local employees to conducting primary research and development work and manufacturing in the area.
The competition also included a $10,000 Audience Choice Award, sponsored by Wegmans. Attendees, both in-person and virtual, were encouraged to go online and vote for their favorite startup. More than 1,300 votes rolled in, and Agri-Trak, a startup creating a farm management application suite for the apple industry, took the lead for this year’s prize.
Three of this year’s winners have deep roots in the Cornell community:
- Agri-Trak is founded by Jamie Sonneville ’04, M.P.S. ’06, and advised by Alison DeMarree of Cornell Cooperative Extension.
- Ascribe Bioscience is founded by researchers at Cornell’s Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI), Jay Farmer, Ph.D. ’98, and Murli Manohar. Their technology was developed in the labs of Cornell/BTI professors Frank Schroeder (College of Arts and Sciences) and Daniel Klessig (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences), and they’re currently incubating at the McGovern Center.
- WeRadiate is a graduate of various Rev: Ithaca Startup Works’ programs, including the Hardware Scaleup Accelerator.
“By creating new jobs and sharing new ideas, the winners of the first two rounds of the Grow-NY food and ag competition have made an important difference in our region’s food and ag ecosystem in less than two years,” said Jenn Smith, program director of Grow-NY. “We’re confident that this year’s winners will continue that positive growth. The quality of the startups vying for awards this year was incredible – congratulations to all the winners.”
Grace Collins is a writer for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement.