New York State continues to draw attention as world’s most exciting innovations — many homegrown — compete for early-stage funding
New York State continues to provide a platform for entrepreneurs and startups to earn game-changing support — and capture the attention of private investors — through startup accelerators and competitions supported by Empire State Development, its Division of Science, Technology and Innovation, also known as NYSTAR, and several of ESD’s Regional Offices, in partnership with NY Ventures. These accelerators and competitions invest both technical assistance and capital in homegrown companies while also attracting some of the top startup talent from across the globe to set up operations in New York.
Innovators displayed a wide range of work throughout the 2023 competition season, from advances in drone technologies to new solutions in agriculture and health care. Just as impressive was the potential impact, as judges evaluated projects that could help New York meet its sustainability goals, improve quality of life, and contribute to the state’s economic growth. The accelerators and competitions target a mix of levels of entrepreneurs across different regions and industries, creating wide impacts across the state and its innovation ecosystem.
“Innovation continues to transform New York State’s economy and our daily lives. Big ideas come to life right here, in New York, because we’ve built an ecosystem in which entrepreneurs, companies, and researchers can thrive, and investors can find their next great venture,” said Hope Knight, President, CEO and Commissioner of Empire State Development. “Congratulations to all the winners of our ESD-supported competitions over the past year. You’ve set a high bar for 2024.”
Here’s a look at the winning projects:
Luminate NY Accelerator Competition
Administered by NextCorps in Rochester, N.Y., Luminate NY is the world’s largest business accelerator for emerging companies with technologies enabled by optics, photonics and imaging (OPI). Each year, Luminate NY selects 10 to 12 companies to participate in its program, providing instruction and resources, including $100,000 apiece in funding upon the start of the program. Participating teams also compete for awards, which totaled more than $2 million in 2023.
Six companies earned additional funding at the Luminate finals with top prize going to Oculi. The company, which was founded in Baltimore, Md., is redefining computer and machine vision with the world’s first smart programmable vision sensor, the Oculi SPU™, which stands for “sensing and processing unit.” Oculi is speeding up and improving computer vision by mixing the effectiveness of the human eye with the quickness of machines. It is ideal for gesture tracking, facial recognition, and low latency eye tracking.
As “Company of the Year,” Oculi received a $1 million investment. Oculi plans to use the funds to move its headquarters to Rochester, scale operations for mass production, expand sales and develop advanced versions of its products.
Outstanding Graduate Award ($400,000):
- Digiteyez (Washington, D.C.), which developed a digital prescription eye care platform.
Distinguished Graduate Award ($200,000):
- NanoPattern Technologies (Chicago, Ill.) is commercializing a patented chemistry and ink that enables display manufacturers to make more sustainable high-resolution screens.
- Quantune Technologies (Germany) developed a chip-sized laser spectrometer for the mid-infrared spectral range.
- Swave Photonics (Leuven, Belgium) developed a spatial light modulator for true digital holography.
Honorable Achievement ($50,000):
- Photonect Interconnect Solutions (Rochester, N.Y.) developed a laser adhesion technique to attach optical fibers to photonic chips.
The food and agriculture business competition Grow-NY, administered by the Center for Regional Economic Advancement (CREA) at Cornell University, identifies, supports, and funds the top food, beverage, and agriculture innovations, annually awarding $3 million in prize money along with mentorship and business development support. Winners are required to relocated to the Grow-NY region (Central New York, Finger Lakes, or Southern Tier) for one year to receive the monetary award.
The top prize of $1 million went to Hypercell Technologies, a company founded in Peachtree Corners, Ga., providing rapid point-of-care diagnostics for the food chain, ensuring early identification and management of potential biological contaminants from production to transformation with increased speed and accuracy.
$500,000 prize winners:
- Crover (Edinburgh, U.K.) which helps improve efficiency of grain storage operations.
- SomaDetect (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada) for its cutting-edge sensor and software system that provides reliable data to dairy farmers.
$250,000 prize winners:
- Cattle Scan (Toronto, Canada) whose technology allows for real-time monitoring of individual cattle, improving overall herd health and advancing business sustainability.
- Clean Label Solution (Ithaca, N.Y.) for its proprietary technology that improves protein and fat digestibility of soy-based animal feeds for livestock while reducing CO2 emissions and energy consumption in its production.
- Mycologic (Kennesaw, Ga.), which has developed hardware and software for the cultivation of specialty mushrooms.
- Mush Foods (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) whose edible mushroom mycelium created a groundbreaking, sustainable, animal-free protein for the food and beverage industry.
Grow-NY is supported by the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech.
New York State’s startup competition held in Buffalo invests $5 million into seed-stage companies, offering founders a chance to secure $1 million in funding and gain access to support services including mentorship, connections to investors, and inroads to customers. Winners are required to relocate to Buffalo for one year to receive funding.
The competition looks for startups that have a strong team in place, traction with customers and have received previous investment. The 2023 43North cohort, each earning a $1 million investment, included:
- Guidesly (Topsfield, Mass.), which serves the $40 billion outdoor recreational guide marketplace through its vertical software-as-a-service platform.
- KAV (Redwood City, Calif.), whose award-winning custom helmets are designed to save lives and reduce brain injuries.
- Kredit Academy (Miami, Fla.), a comprehensive financial literacy platform aimed at empowering consumers, particularly teens and young adults, with knowledge and tools to build sound credit while also providing financial institutions with an effective means of engagement and growth.
- Stepwise (Cambridge, Mass.), a startup making home electrification, specifically for EV chargers and heat pump installations, cost effective for homeowners while future-proofing the electric grid.
- StoreCash (San Jose, Calif.), a mobile payment solution for users to make transactions cheaply and easily via QR codes at more than 200,000 locations, earning maximum cash back at their favorite stores.
FuzeHub Commercialization Competition
As part of the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund, this competition is administered by FuzeHub and held annually at the New York State Innovation Summit. The Commercialization Competition awards a total of $450,000 to New York State-based startups that can demonstrate the commercialization potential of their technology or product.
The funding awarded is intended to help small manufacturing and technology companies further develop their prototype in an effort to pursue additional investment and customers as well as strengthen their “go-to-market” strategies.
Ashlawn Energy (Binghamton, N.Y.) won the grand prize of $150,000 in 2023. The company created a unique rechargeable battery system that stores power at off-peak times, saving it for use during peak times, thereby reducing energy consumption when it matters most.
- Epic Airway Systems, Inc. (Schenectady, N.Y.), which combines two existing technologies into a single solution that makes breathing during emergencies or sedation safer for patients.
- RHM Innovations Inc. (Rochester, N.Y.) for its assistive shower system.
- Soulo (Brooklyn, N.Y.) for its long-handled electric toenail trimmer designed for aging and disabled adults.
- ReVert Technologies, Inc (New York, N.Y.), whose smart surge protector automatically turns appliances off and on.
- Opal Wearables, Inc. (Brooklyn, N.Y.), which developed a smart ring that can silently request help from 911 or emergency contacts.
- DUB Biologics INC (East Syracuse, N.Y.), a company developing a therapeutic that helps reduce fibrosis, also known as scarring.
New York Business Plan Competition
The New York Business Plan Competition is a statewide, intercollegiate entrepreneurship competition, administered by Upstate Capital, that awards more than $100,000 in cash prizes to up to 30 student teams in six tracks.
RHM Innovations Inc. was selected as the grand prize winner and recognized with a Community Founder Award. The company develops assistive bathing technologies to increase safety and independence; its first product, the Aiding Arm, is a shower chair attachment with a patented lever system that allows a person to control the flow of water while seated safely in a standard shower chair.
Founders Courtney Burris (University at Buffalo) and Brandon Davis Burris (University of Rochester) were awarded $26,000 to help grow their startup. They also will receive mentorship and connections from industry leaders through Upstate Capital’s membership.
In each of the competition’s six tracks, prizes were awarded to first place ($10,000), second place ($2,000) and third place ($1,000) startup teams. For a full list of award winners, visit nybpc.com.
Based in Syracuse and administered by CenterState CEO, GENIUS NY is an accelerator in the UAS (uncrewed aerial systems) industry, distributing a total of $3 million across five winning teams. Winners are required to relocate two of their leadership staff to Syracuse for a minimum of 12 months.
The $1 million grand prize went to blueflite, a company founded in Detroit, Michigan that offers a drone-based logistics platform. Its patented, unique, and all-electrical drone design has vertical take-off and landing capabilities, advanced maneuverability, and is built to meet the rigorous demands of commercial operations.
The four other finalists each received a $500,000 investment:
- Aloft (Washington, D.C.) provides software solutions for individual aircraft and full fleet management to make drone operation safer and more valuable.
- Greenjets (Bedfordshire, U.K.) creates electric propulsors that make drones safer, quieter and more sustainable.
- Voltela (New York, N.Y.) provides software that ensures a reliable and consistent communication network for uncrewed aerial systems.
- VOTIX (Miami, Fla.) supplies a hardware-agnostic platform that enables drone automation, orchestration and remote operation.
HUSTLE Defense Accelerator
Administered by Griffiss Institute in Rome, N.Y., the HUSTLE Defense Accelerator is for early-stage and pre-seed tech startups pushing artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity, quantum science, or aircraft system solutions, culminating with a Demo Day Competition that awards a total of $450,000. Winners are required to conduct substantial businesses operations in the Mohawk Valley for at least 12 months after the HUSTLE Defense Accelerator.
EMPEQ, which is based in Ithaca, N.Y., earned the $150,000 grand prize for its Fast Site Survey™ that combines detailed, accurate data on building equipment with customizable forms and templates to make site surveys up to 80% more efficient.
$100,000 investment winners:
- Paterson Aerospace Systems Corporation (Wilmington, Del.), a think tank of professional engineers and scientists with a passion for protecting environmental assets for safer and cleaner space exploration.
- BosonQ Psi (Buffalo, N.Y.), which presented a vision to be the premier simulation software company utilizing quantum computing to serve enterprise customers.
$50,000 investment winners:
- Accessible Automation (Rome, N.Y.), which has developed a long-range wireless communication system. The first product projected to roll out with this technology will be a wireless thermostat to control the temperature in any room of a house.
- Drone City LLC (New York, N.Y.), a company whose drones are installed with sophisticated sensors, the latest spatial awareness technology, and automatic safety parachute mechanisms that can carry out automated delivery services.
Are You Ready to Compete?
Applications are starting to open for 2024 accelerator and competition participants. To learn more about the programs above, including eligibility criteria, visit the websites of the organizations that align with your startup’s product and industry.
All of New York State’s startup competitions serve as meaningful opportunities for venture capital firms and investors, both regionally and nationally, to identify high-potential and high-impact early-stage companies that strengthen communities, disrupt industries, and can generate returns. Investors interested in engaging with these competitions should contact NYSTAR or any of the various program organizers. NYS also offers other opportunities for venture capital funding, including fund-to-fund investments, via NY Ventures.