Sweet Pea Plant Based Kitchen co-founder Ryan Jennings and vice president of nutrition Jen Nguyen pitch their startup at the 2022 Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit. One of four $250,000 winners, Sweet Pea combines a plant-centric meal service and nutrition coaching for a healthy life.

Applications open for fifth annual Grow-NY competition

Innovative agribusinesses are encouraged to apply through June 15 for the fifth iteration of the Grow-NY food and agriculture business competition.

Grow-NY uses food and agriculture innovation to strengthen the economy and grow jobs in the Central New York, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions. Over its first four years, the competition has garnered applications and interest from more than 1,000 businesses in 41 states and 47 countries.

“The fifth round of the Grow-NY agribusiness accelerator will help to build on the incredible success of earlier competition winners whose entrepreneurial ideas are fueling economic growth in upstate New York,” said Hope Knight, Empire State Development president, CEO and commissioner. “These innovative companies have attracted significant investment throughout the Grow-NY region and around the world, and I can’t wait to see what the next crop of selected, forward-thinking entrepreneurs will bring to the table.”

Cornell impacting New York State

In all, 79 finalists have been selected to date, with 28 winners sharing $12 million in startup funding as well as mentorship and networking benefits.

Winners are required to positively impact the Grow-NY region, connect with local industry partners and contribute to a thriving upstate economy. Each year, finalists are awarded a top prize of $1 million, two $500,000 prizes and four $250,000 prizes, for a total of $3 million in awards. The competition is funded by Empire State Development through its Upstate Revitalization Initiative and administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

“As New York’s land-grant university, Cornell is dedicated to sharing research and discoveries with communities across our state and worldwide,” said Benjamin Z. Houlton, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We are proud to support the Grow-NY competition and the innovation it brings to New York state – a highly dynamic and diverse agricultural leader. Our partnership with Grow-NY underscores our mutual commitment to sustainable food systems that tackle New York’s biggest challenges.”

In 2022, 20 finalists from around the world pitched their business plans to a live audience and panel of judges in Syracuse, New York. More than 1,200 people registered for the fourth annual Grow-NY Summit, which included panel sessions, inspired by the 2030 Project, that were led by Cornell expert faculty and industry leaders.

Last year judges awarded the grand prize to ProAgni, a startup that offers a range of supplements and feeds for livestock that lowers methane emissions without the use of antibiotics, decreasing a producer’s environmental footprint. Past Cornell-affiliated winners include Ascribe Bioscience, AvantGuard (formerly Halomine), Candidus, Capro-X, Combplex and Craft Cannery.

“After four rounds of the competition, the Grow-NY effect has resulted in the addition of hundreds of new jobs, the revitalization of commercial space, the development of agrifood infrastructure and the follow-on of more than $82 million in new investor activity, lifting the critical ag sector throughout the region,” said Grow-NY program director Jenn Smith. “It goes beyond the startups in our portfolio, and beyond even the food and farming communities, to boost businesses small and large throughout the region.”

In August, up to 20 finalists will be selected to enter a mentoring and business development phase, running from September to November. Finalists will pitch their ideas and business plans at the Grow-NY Food and Agriculture Summit, Nov. 14-15 in Binghamton, New York.

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

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