Grow-NY competition will encourage agriculture and food entrepreneurs

Grow-NY competition will encourage agriculture and food entrepreneurs

Agricultural and food entrepreneurs in the Finger Lakes and two adjoining regions may compete for up to $1 million in a new business stimulation competition announced Friday.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at the announcement of the new Grow-NY competition. RBJ Photo by Diana Louise Carter
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at the announcement of the new Grow-NY competition. (RBJ Photo by Diana Louise Carter)

The Grow-NY competition is funded by $21 million in prize money over three years from Empire State Development and will be administered by Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.  The first year will feature a pitch by 20 finalists at a summit held at the Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center Nov. 12 and 13.

Businesses from anywhere are eligible to compete, but if they win, they must locate in the “Grow-NY region” for at least a year. That region includes the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Central New York, comprising 22 counties.

“Food and Ag-tech is a huge part of our overall economy,” said Tom Schryver, executive director of the Cornell center. In a video at the start of the announcement, he cited Chobani, the billion-dollar yogurt giant that grew from nothing in Chenango County, as an example of food entrepreneurship the award hopes to encourage.

Schryver also noted that 100 million people who need to eat live within 500 miles of the Grow-NY region, providing opportunity to grow more food-related businesses.  The majority of new jobs come from startup companies less than five years old, he said.

The announcement, drawing state legislators, Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo and local food industry captains, was held at LiDestri Foods, a major food manufacturer and innovator.

“There can be countless more LiDestris creating jobs,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

She said farmers are facing major difficulties on several fronts, including U.S. trade policies, changing tariffs, difficulties securing a workforce and effects of climate change. “We have to find ways to help them keep producing.”

Hochul said the three economic development regions were chosen for the Grow NY competition in part because they won $500 million from state in economic development funds, which will pay for the program.

Bill Strassburg, head of strategic planning at Wegmans Food Markets, said, “We have a wonderful ecosystem,” for food and agriculture entrepreneurship. “Grow-NY will help us become even more notable.”

Each year of the program, seven businesses will win prizes, from $250,000 to $1 million. Finalists will be mentored by a business adviser, receive pitch training, be brought to the region for a three-day business development trip and be given introductions and tours with potential partners.

Applications are open until July 15. More information on the competition and how to enter it is available on the Grow-NY website.

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