Nov 18, 2019
Grow-NY business competition honors RealEats, Dropcopter, others

Empire State Development and Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement has named RealEats America the $1 million grand prize winner of its inaugural Grow-NY business competition, an innovation and technology startup challenge focused on enhancing the emerging food, beverage and agriculture hub in Central New York, the Finger Lakes, and the Southern Tier. RealEats America was one of seven finalists to take home prize money during the two-day Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit held in Rochester, New York this past Nov. 12 and 13.

“I want to congratulate RealEats as the first recipient of the Grow-NY Competition,” New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said. “This targeted investment not only helps these dynamic companies establish themselves in New York State, but supports New York’s regional agricultural economy. RealEats represents the initiatives that will create a lasting economic impact on New York’s agribusiness.”

“The agricultural economy in New York continues to grow with increased investment in our farms and local products,” Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said. “The first round of the Grow-NY Competition has been a success, and we are excited about the potential that these entrepreneurs have to make the industry even stronger. These companies are developing ideas and plans to revolutionize the industry by transforming sustainability and improving the health and well-being of New Yorkers. I congratulate all of the finalists and winners of the competition, and we look forward to helping these innovative companies grow and thrive in New York.”

Seventeen finalists pitched their business plans to a live audience and panel of judges during the Summit held at the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The event attracted over 900 attendees and featured more than 75 food and agricultural exhibitors along with enriching panel sessions tackling some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the industry today. Danny Wegman, chairman of Wegmans Food Markets, served as the keynote speaker and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul was on-site during the final awards ceremony to close the Summit.

Grow-NY awarded a total of $3 million in prize money. This included a $1 million top prize, two $500,000 prizes and four $250,000 prizes.Upon accepting the award, winners are committing to operate in Central New York, the Finger Lakes, or the Southern Tier region for at least one year.

Grand Prize $1,000,000 Winner: RealEats America

Geneva, New York

 $500,000 Winner: Dropcopter

Syracuse, New York

 $500,000 Winner: Tiliter

Munchen, Germany

 $250,000 Winner: Capro-X

Ithaca, New York

 $250,000 WinnerCombplex

Ithaca, New York

 $250,000 WinnerThe Perfect Granola

Victor, New York

 $250,000 WinnerWhole Healthy Food

Ithaca, New York

 Judges based 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;
  • 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 NY’s status as a global leader in innovation in these markets;
  • Regional Job Creation – the potential for creating high-quality jobs in the Grow-NY footprint; and
  • Team – the quality and completeness of the team and its readiness to deliver.

 All finalists received dedicated mentorship from hand-selected regional business advisors leading up to the competition. Such mentorship included pitch training to hone live presentation skills along with an expenses-paid, multi-day business development trip to the Grow-NY region. The trip enabled finalists to meet with potential partners, customers, manufacturers and producers. The Grow-NY winners will now immediately get to work executing their business plans in the three regions, leveraging the connections they made during their business development trips.

 Tom Schryver, executive director of Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, said, “The Grow-NY competition exceeded every benchmark we set for this inaugural year and the Summit event served as an unprecedented celebration of the vibrant food and ag innovation cluster growing in Upstate New York. The quality of the startup competitors was truly incredible and there is no doubt that this first year has showcased to the world that the Central NY, Finger Lakes, and Southern Tier regions are a top place for food and ag innovation to thrive.”

 Nearly 200 applicants applied to this year’s competition, including entrants from North America, Europe, Central America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. In the U.S., 23 states were represented, including 112 entries from New York. Among those that indicated gender, females comprised 32 percent of applicants, and among those that indicated an ethnicity, 46 percent were non-white.

 Empire State Development provided funding for the Grow-NY competition through its Upstate Revitalization Initiatives (URI) – CNY Rising, Finger Lakes Forward and Southern Tier Soaring. Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement administered the competition.

 “We’re grateful to Governor Cuomo for supporting the growth of the food and ag ecosystem in the Grow-NY region, and to Empire State Development and the Central NY, Finger Lakes, and Southern Tier regions for partnering with us so that this competition can shine a light on the world-leading hub of food and ag innovation growing and fueling New York’s economy,” said Jenn Smith, director of the Grow-NY program.

The winner will be required to make a positive economic impact in the Grow-NY region, which features counties within Central NY, the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier of New York state, where there are vibrant farmlands as well as several major urban centers, including Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca, Geneva and Binghamton. The winning business will help contribute to job growth, connect with local industry partners and contribute to a thriving economy.

To learn more about the winners, mentors and judges, and plans for year two of the competition, visit

Empire State Development (ESD) promotes a vigorous and growing state economy, encourages business investment and job creation, and supports diverse, prosperous local economies across New York State through the efficient use of loans, grants, tax credits, real estate development, marketing and other forms of assistance. To learn more about ESD visit

The Cornell Center for Regional Economic Advancement (CREA) supports economic impact in Upstate New York through entrepreneurship and innovation. We help people advance ideas that will create jobs in all fields in our region, to enrich the area’s economic diversity. To learn more, visit

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