High-Growth Food And Agriculture Startup Competition Accepting Entries

Grow-NY — the new, $3 million global food and agriculture business competition led by Empire State Development and Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, is currently accepting startup entries until July 15.

Up to 20 finalists will be selected later this summer to compete for several levels of startup funding — including a $1 million grand prize to be awarded in November. Startups can apply from anywhere around the world, but they must be prepared to operate or do business within the region for at least 12 months to qualify. Apply now.

Read on for frequently asked questions, eligibility and judging criteria.


Grow-NY will award a total of $3 million in prize money to seven winners each year, all payable in stages, based on business milestones. 

• Prize breakdowns include one $1 million top prize, two $500,000 prizes, and four $250,000 prizes 

• Also included are mentorship, training, business development, and tax incentives 

ALL finalists (up to 20 companies) receive: 

• Dedicated mentorship from a hand-selected business advisor 

• Additional pitch training to hone the finalists’ live pitches for the judges 

• An expenses-paid, three-day business development trip to the region for up to two finalists per team; and 

• Networking introductions, business tours with potential partners, and valuable appointments for those finalist team representatives 


Winning companies commit to making a positive impact in the Grow-NY startup hub located in New York’s Finger Lakes, Central New York, and Southern Tier regions. The counties included are: 

• Finger Lakes – Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Orleans, Ontario, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates 

• Central New York – Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego 

• Southern Tier – Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Delaware, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins 


Each year, a panel of judges will award $3 million in prize money, payable in increments. Judges will base award decisions on the following criteria: 

• Viability of Commercialization and Business Model – The potential for entrants to generate revenue and maintain a cost structure that allows for a competitive, sustainable business, demonstrate technological readiness, or innovate to fulfill its needed value proposition; 

• Customer Value – Providing something for which customers are willing to pay, and addressing a substantial market; 

• Food and Agriculture Innovation – Pushing what’s considered state-of-the-art in the food and agriculture industries, and contributing to Upstate NY’s status as a global leader in innovation in these markets; 

• Regional Job Creation – The potential to create high-quality jobs in Grow-NY’s footprint; and 

• Team – The quality and completeness of the team and its readiness to deliver. 


A panel of judges will review all of the applications and select up to 20 finalists who will pitch their business ideas and plans to a live audience and panel of judges during the pitch competition stage in the region. Each pitch will be followed by a brief question period for judges to seek more information. After all pitches are completed, the judges will announce the winners, taking into account input from the previous round. 


Grow-NY prizes will be distributed through a contract, with provisions tied to operating in at least one of the three regions for a minimum of 12 months, and a requirement to repay the award if the residency requirement is not met. The agreement also contains a “pay it forward” provision in the form of an equity warrant. Prize payments will be made in stages, based on milestone completion. 


• Applicants must be an established startup business in the food and agriculture space that meets the state’s criteria for being “in the formative stage,” which is two or more of the following criteria: 

• Less than seven years from date of formal organization 

• Has its first product or service in testing or pilot production 

• Pre-revenue or early revenue 

• Has a leadership team and investors working toward commercialization and profitability 

• If the business is a spin-off from an existing business that does not meet the above criteria, the new entity must be pursuing a substantially new technology or business model. 

• The “food and agriculture space” includes companies at every point in the agri-food value chain that are working to serve a growing population while striving to employ sustainable, healthy, and/or environmentally conscious methods. Examples of food and agriculture startups include, but are not limited to, companies that: 

• Research and design new crop varieties 

• Offer new methods and/or tools to support the efficient growing, monitoring, and harvesting of crops and livestock 

• Offer new and/or improved methods for producing, preparing, and packaging food and beverage products or ingredients 

• Represent high-growth opportunities for new and innovative food and beverage products or ingredients 

The following businesses are NOT eligible for the competition: Investment vehicles that invest in the securities of other entities, residential real property and retail businesses, sports venues, gaming and gambling businesses, places of overnight accommodation, past Grow-NY cash-prize winners, or entertainment-related establishments.

For this purpose, “retail business” means a business that is primarily engaged in making retail sales of goods or services to customers who personally visit such facilities to obtain goods or services. In addition, generally excluded are the following: buy-outs, roll-ups, real estate syndications, tax shelters, and franchise-based outlets. 

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Lioness News Desk

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