Grow-NY startups foster progress and collaboration

The startups vying for $3 million in prize money at this year’s Grow-NY Food and Agriculture Competition aren’t just bringing revolutionary innovations to market, and working to solve the problems confronting agri-food systems – winners are required to make a positive impact on the region, too.

Now in its fourth iteration, Grow-NY is a global business competition that seeks to bring innovative food and agriculture startups to New York state, specifically the Central New York, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions. The competition is funded by Empire State Development and administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

Cornell impacting New York State

Twenty finalists were selected from a record 385 applicants, including 92 from New York state, 31 of whom hail from the Grow-NY region.

Over the next several weeks, the finalists will receive business development support, networking introductions and one-on-one mentorship from industry experts. They’ll then pitch their startups to a live audience at the Grow-NY Summit, Nov. 15-16 at the Oncenter in Syracuse, New York. Four winners will be awarded $250,000, two will win $500,000 and one grand prize winner will receive $1 million.

“Round four of the Grow-NY business competition has once again attracted a group of exceptional startups and entrepreneurial talent from around the world,” said Hope Knight, Empire State Development president, CEO and commissioner. “Through this agri-business focused 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.”

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

  • Botaniline (Buffalo) – Coordinated through the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Botaniline supports the New York School Nutrition Association and Cornell’s Farm to School program, offering schools 51% New York state sourced and processed beef. The startup creates ground proteins that are lower in salt, saturated fat and calories by utilizing plant-based ingredients to replace some of the meat.
  • Craft Cannery (Bergen, New York) – Craft Cannery, which manufactures sauces, dressings and marinades, receives advice and mentorship from Shannon Prozeller and Casey McManus at the Cornell Food Venture Center (CFVC) and the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech, and uses Cornell as a process authority.
  • Edenesque (Kingston, New York) – This startup is aided by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the CFVC with scheduled processes and shelf-life testings of its artisanal plant-based milks.
  • Forte Protein (Trumansburg, New York) – CEO and founder Kathleen Hefferon serves as a lecturer of microbiology in CALS. She has 20 years of experience in plant research, 10 of which were spent at Cornell as a scientist and researcher in the Division of Nutritional Sciences after completing a fellowship in the Cornell Center for Teaching Excellence. She utilized the Center for Technology Licensing at Cornell to coin Forte Protein’s plant-based technology, which produces a broad range of meat, fish and dairy proteins without the carbon footprint involved in animal agriculture.
  • KEHO (New York City) – The startup, which produces plant-based snack bars, sent early samples of its ingredients to Cornell for lab testing.
  • Norwhey Brewing (Ithaca) – Led by founder and CEO Sam Alcaine, M.S. ’07, an associate professor of food science in CALS, Norwhey Brewing transforms New York state’s yogurt byproducts into hard seltzer by capturing and fermenting excess whey from the production of strained yogurt.
  • Sweat Pea Plant-Based Kitchen (Rochester) – Jen Nguyen, a founding member of Sweet Pea’s nutrition program, completed her dietetic internship at Cornell in 2018.
  • Unnico Food (Mamaroneck, New York) – The CFVC was key in helping Unnico Food launch its line of plant-based yogurts and creams, offering support in the startup’s processes, formulation and food safety practices and issuing the startup’s final testing reports.
  • Vivid Machines (Toronto) – This startup has a collaboration agreement with Cornell to use its Vivid X-Vision system for grape disease detection and management, which can capture the visible and chemical details of every plant across an entire crop from bud to harvest to provide means for early diagnosis of pests, diseases and nutrient deficiencies.
  • We Are The New Farmers (New York City) – As a Cornell Institute for Food Systems IPP Affiliate company, We Are The New Farmers has worked with faculty across Cornell on various projects. The startup, which is launching a microscopy project with the Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR), produces fresh, frozen, farm-grown spirulina cubes that are packed with micronutrients and antioxidants.
  • Zalliant (Amsterdam, New York.) – Cornell alumni John Balbian ’95, founder and CEO, and Andy Skidmore ’90 work at this company, which uses Internet of Things and artificial intelligence technologies to help farmers improve their decision making and management.

This year’s Grow-NY Summit, featuring a pitch competition, educational symposium and Summit Showcase with services for startups, will feature an all-access, in-person component, as well as the option to view virtually. All-access registration is $50, $25 for students, Virtual registration is free. To register, and for more information on the Grow-NY Summit, visit

Lauren Simpson is a marketing and communications coordinator for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement.