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Image credit: Grow-NY

Grow-NY is looking for agrifoodtech startups to apply to win mentorship, $1m prize

June 10, 2021

Sydney, Australia-based tech company Tiliter started with a simple question: ‘How can we use technology to identify products without barcodes?’

This led its founders to push the limits of AI by creating solutions that are flexible and scalable for use in retail environments. Tiliter’s technology eliminates the need for barcodes, making it a great fit for grocery, where categories like produce and baked goods have historically required manual identification.

With tested prototypes and a business plan, Tiliter applied for the inaugural Grow-NY competition. In Q4 2019, it was selected as a Grow-NY finalist, assigned a mentor, and its founders were flown to upstate New York to network with researchers and industry leaders and discover other entrepreneurial resources in the region.

They found strategic partners in Rochester, New York’s optics, imaging, and photonics sector, and made a persuasive case for how their technology could change food retail during their live pitch at the Grow-NY competition. Tiliter won $500,000 through Grow-NY, had a frictionless entry into the US market, and has gone on to raise $7.5 million for their cashier-less checkout innovation.

“The Grow-NY program was a great opportunity to have doors opened into the North American market,” said Tiliter co-founder and CEO Marcel Herz. “The prizes are substantial, and the networking and mentorship were beneficial. Participation in the competition has been a helping hand to our growth in North America.”

Grow-NY is Cornell University’s unprecedented food and agriculture business competition that identifies, supports, and funds the top food, beverage, and agriculture innovations across the globe. The competition includes a $1 million top prize out of $3 million in total prizes, mentorship, training, business development support, and tax incentives. Winning companies commit to making a positive impact in the growing startup hub located in New York state’s Finger Lakes, Central New York, and Southern Tier regions.

The competition is open again; applications for Round III will be accepted until July 15, 2021. Interactive information sessions are offered weekly to answer questions from prospective companies; you can sign up to attend here.

The competition has already awarded millions of dollars to high-growth food and agriculture startups from around the world since launching in 2019.

Round I winner RealEats, has been named as a top meal delivery service by Forbes, Rolling Stone, and Men’s Journal. Round II’s top-placing Soos is moving into commercialization of its AI-driven technology that affects the sex development process in chicken embryos, with the objective of reducing the culling of male chicks in the egg industry.

Applications must be submitted by Thursday, July 15. In September, up to 20 finalists will be assigned dedicated mentors and enter the business development phase. All finalists will receive bespoke entrepreneurial support, valuable regional introductions, and additional training to hone their live pitches. Barring travel restrictions, finalists will also join an expenses-paid, three-day business development trip to the region for up to two team members. The finalists will then present their business plans during the Grow-NY Summit, November 16-17, which this year will be a hybrid in-person and virtual event broadcast live from Syracuse, New York.

“We’ve had tremendous success engaging innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors from all over the world in the agriculture and food processing ecosystem of farm, industry, academic, and R&D resources here in upstate New York,” said Grow-NY program director Jenn Smith.

“We want to outdo ourselves this year. As we continue to recover and rebuild from the pandemic, Round III of Grow-NY will provide much needed investment and opportunity, and we look forward to seeing this year’s applicants.”

Judges will base award decisions on the following five criteria:

  • Viability of commercialization and business model – the potential for the entrant to generate revenue and maintain a cost structure that allows for a competitive and sustainable business, demonstrate technological readiness, or innovate to fulfill its value proposition;
  • Team – demonstration of a level of cohesion, completeness, and readiness within, and diversity and inclusion amongst the founders, employees, and advisors of the business that will allow the team to deliver on its potential
  • Customer value – the degree to which the entrant is providing something for which customers are willing to pay, and addressing a substantial market;
  • Food and agriculture innovation – the extent to which the entrant is pushing what’s considered state-of-the-art in the food and agriculture industries, and contributing to upstate New York’s status as a global leader in innovation in these markets; and
  • Regional job creation – the potential for creating high-quality jobs in the Grow-NY footprint, and relevance to the existing food and ag ecosystem.

In anticipation of this year’s competition, Cornell University released a first-of-its kind report designed to guide innovators and investors toward urgent technology needs in New York’s farming and food processing industries, as identified by dozens of farmers, manufacturers, retailers, researchers, and other key stakeholders.

The goal of the report, titled ‘A Call for Innovation: New York’s Agrifood System,’ is to foster regionalization and diversity in these industries by offering evidence-based recommendations and guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs in the agriculture, food processing, and distribution spaces.

Both the report and the Grow-NY competition represent Cornell’s commitment to support the farm and food economy in New York state and to foster economic growth in the region.

“‘Call for Innovation‘ places a direct spotlight on a set of opportunities and needs we have in upstate New York that startups from around the world can fulfill,” Smith said.

“By gaining a clear understanding of the needs of our agrifood system, this year’s set of applications to Grow-NY will be ever more relevant to our goals. We’re looking for changemakers who can empower farmers, improve speed-to-market, and strengthen customer relationships.”

Applications are currently open for Round III of the Grow-NY competition until July 15, 2021. To learn more about the competition, visit or watch the video below.

*This article was sponsored by Grow-NY, an agrifood startup competition backed by Cornell University, Empire State Development, and the New York State Center of Excellence for Food & Agriculture, as part of the AgFunder Network Partner program. Find out more here.*

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