New initiatives support Northeast dairy innovation

Applications are open for a new online entrepreneurship class for innovators with ideas for value-added dairy products, and finalists have been announced for a first-ever dairy products competition.

Both initiatives are part of a Cornell program that aims to increase demand for dairy ingredients produced in New York and the Northeast.

Applications are now available for the Dairy Runway program, an online entrepreneurship curriculum that focuses on product concept and consumer discovery. The program will provide participants who complete the Cornell-based virtual course with entrepreneurial coaching, access to New York-based kitchen incubators and support from Cornell Food Science technical experts as they analyze the desirability, viability and feasibility of their products. The program is supported by a grant from Empire State Development, with funding from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Dairy Promotion Order.

Cornell impacting New York State

The Runway program is one of two new initiatives from the Dairy Innovation program, which seeks to increase demand for the high-quality dairy inherent to New York state and the Northeast by equipping dairy innovators with the tools they need – from consumer discovery to business planning and prototyping – to introduce value-added products to an expanding market. It is administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement (CREA), in partnership with the Northeast Dairy Foods Research Center (NDFRC).

“Like in any industry, consumer preferences for dairy products are changing, which provides an enormous opportunity for dairy entrepreneurs,” said Sam Alcaine, M.S. ’07, director of the NDFRC and associate professor of food science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). “We need to equip these entrepreneurs and innovators with the right training and skillset to recognize and respond to these opportunities, which is what the Dairy Runway program is designed to do.”

The deadline for applications is June 22. Dairy innovators with a value-added dairy product who are located in the United States and committed to using New York-produced dairy ingredients in their product are encouraged to apply.

Graduates of the Dairy Runway program will be well-positioned to apply for funding opportunities such as the Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition – also part of the Dairy Innovation program.

Ten finalists were announced in the inaugural competition, which supports food innovators in launching products made from dairy ingredients produced in the Northeast. More than 50 food entrepreneurs applied to the inaugural competition, which is funded by the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center.

Two finalists have ties to the Cornell community. Jonah Gershon ’24 is working on a premade brown butter product through his company, Spekld, based in Connecticut. And Anusuya Rangarajan, the director of the Cornell Small Farms Program and a senior extension associate in CALS, is developing a sugar-free, savory yogurt through her company, Very Good Yogurt, based in New York.

“The Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition builds a pipeline of entrepreneurs prepared to create and scale value-added products that address today’s consumer preferences,” said Jenn Smith, CREA’s director of food and agriculture startup programs. “Growing these businesses is key to increasing the use of dairy ingredients produced in the Northeast and strengthening our rural economy.”

All finalists will receive $20,000, early-stage incubation assistance from Cornell’s food processing and business experts, access to the university’s food processing facilities, prototyping training and individualized mentorship.

The competition will culminate Aug. 8 at Stocking Hall, where finalists will pitch their products to a committee of judges. Up to three winners will receive an additional $55,000 and a presence at the Dairy Innovation Showcase at the 2023 Grow-NY Summit in November in Binghamton, NY.

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

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Abby Kozlowski