Three I-Corps Alumni to Compete for $1M at Grow-NY Food & Ag Summit
This November, Heat Inverse, Ascribe Bioscience, and WeRadiate—alumni of UNY I-Corps Node’s regional courses and/or the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Teams program—will be competing at the Grow-NY Food & Ag Summit against 17 other food and agriculture companies in a pitch competition for $3 million in prize money — including a $1 million grand prize.
Currently in its third year, Grow-NY consists of a business competition and summit that seeks to bring innovative food and agriculture startups — and the jobs and dollars that come with them — to the Central New York, Southern Tier, and Upstate New York regions. Finalists work with mentors over a period of several weeks, culminating in the Grow-NY Summit where founders will deliver their business pitches and the winners will be announced live.
Heat Inverse, based in Ithaca, New York, is developing a cooling technology to help manufacturers increase efficiency simply and inexpensively, using thin-film materials that can cool without energy input or generating heat, which has the potential to revolutionize food and agriculture production, especially within the realm of transportation.
Being selected as a Grow-NY finalist is another milestone in the startup’s entrepreneurial journey, which has also included participation in the 76West Clean Energy Competition and the Manufacturing Hardware Accelerator at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, as well as participation in both UNY I-Corps Node and NSF I-Corps Teams programming. Heat Inverse also received a $225,000 NSF SBIR Phase I award in 2019 to scale-up and pilot its technology with customers. Founder and CEO, Romy Fain, shared with the Cornell Chronicle in 2019 the value of her experience in I-Corps.
“The NSF I-Corps programs not only gave us the opportunity to find customers, but more importantly, they taught us how to find customers,” said Fain. “We are continuing to use the skills we learned in the program to dig deeper into our initial market, but also to investigate potential future follow-on markets.”
Ascribe Bioscience, an agricultural biotech startup based on technology developed at the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University and based in Ithaca, New York, is developing natural products that enable farmers to combat crop pathogens without harming the environment or impacting human health. The company received a $225,000 NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I award in 2019, followed by a $750,000 NSF SBIR Phase II award in 2020 to field test its unique pathogen-fighting technology.
The startup’s product, Phytalix, is a natural compound that soil-dwelling roundworms use to communicate with one another. To a certain degree, plants are also able to sense these communication compounds in the soil, allowing them time to launch an immune response against pathogens.
“Basically, pathogens use these molecules to communicate and the plants are eavesdropping,” said Murli Manohar, co-founder and CTO of Ascribe Bioscience, and a research associate at the Boyce Thompson Institute, in a 2020 interview with the Cornell Chronicle.
The company’s solution involves treating crop seeds with Phytalix before they grow into plants, so that the plants’ immune systems are primed against certain pathogens, and better equipped to ward off illness when the time comes – like vaccine use in humans.
Before completing I-Corps Teams, Ascribe Bioscience participated in the inaugural AgCorps regional course, dedicated to supporting food and agriculture researchers with deep tech innovations, launched by UNY I-Corps in 2020 at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) conference. In partnership with Cornell University, UNY I-Corps will be holding another AgCorps regional course from Dec. 20 to Jan. 14, part of which will take place at this year’s AFBF conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
Located in Buffalo, New York, WeRadiate is developing a turnkey solution to improve soil quality using hardware, software, and data technology that offers a complete array of tools to create high-efficacy and high-quality compost end products at all composting sites.
Founded by Sashti Balasundaram, WeRadiate has developed a proprietary compost technology called ThermoSense with the goal of improving soil health for farms, gardens, and communities. From its grassroot beginnings in Brooklyn, New York, the company relocated its headquarters to Buffalo, New York, and has quickly established itself in the region’s cleantech scene, participating in LaunchNY’s Emerging Cleantech Opportunity (ECO) Incubator and NextCorps and Rev’s Hardware Scale-Up program. WeRadiate recently completed a UNY I-Corps regional course through the University of Buffalo in July 2021.
“Sashti brings his extensive knowledge of the industry and passion in developing and implementing the WeRadiate system,” said Rich Delmerico, a LaunchNY/NYSERDA Entrepreneur in Residence and mentor to WeRadiate in a 2020 UpStart NY article on the company. “This system will benefit the environment, while also helping to abate landfill and incineration disposal in the Food Recovery Hierarchy.”
REGISTER FOR GROW-NY
Interested in cheering on Ascribe Bioscience, Heat Inverse, and WeRadiate as they pitch for their chance to win $1 million? The Grow-NY Summit will be held both in Syracuse and online on November 16-17, 2021. Virtual access is free, and all-access registration is $45 ($25 for students). More information and registration for the summit can be found here.