NYSTAR support continues to aid food and agriculture entrepreneurs

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Food Spark June 2023 Certificate Ceremony

Of the many sectors that make up New York’s economy, food and agriculture operations continue to be a vital part of the state’s success.

From its dairy industry to production of apples, grapes, and maple syrup, New York is a national leader in food production, all while contributing billions in sales on an annual basis. Marketing programs such as Taste NY and NYS Grown & Certified® promote these successes for a cavalcade of small business owners; and state-backed programs and resources continue to guide an industry responsible for an estimated $1 billion in salaries for workers from Buffalo to Brooklyn.

But to continue to grow, those innovating within this sector need to overcome hurdles. That’s where Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology, and Innovation (NYSTAR) comes in. Within centers, business incubators and competitions such as Grow-NY developed specifically for entrepreneurs aiming to drive New York’s economy forward, NYSTAR is spurring prosperity in food and ag at local and national levels.

“In order to maximize New York’s potential across entrepreneurial spaces, we need to support individuals committed to advancing their ideas forward,” said Hope Knight, President, CEO, and Commissioner of Empire State Development. “This is the goal of NYSTAR initiatives, and we’re excited about the impact we’re seeing—not to mention the new products that are available on shelves as a result.”

And this impact is growing, one story at a time.

 

Brazilian flavors, perfected in New York


When Patricia Springer was just a young girl in Brazil, she learned how to cook alongside her mother, whose basic blends of herbs, spices and fresh ingredients would enliven their home with inviting aromas.

After nearly 30 years of experience in telecom and biotech, earning an MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and time spent at home throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she rediscovered her childhood love of cooking—and saw an opportunity to turn this curiosity into a career pivot.

Her idea: Create the types of Brazilian seasonings her mother used, and bring these simple mixtures to the American marketplace. But to do so, she needed to find a way to infuse the necessary fresh garlic with shelf stability. Working with the Cornell Food Venture Center (CFVC) and the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture (CoE) she was able to launch Perfeito Foods in Auburn in 2021, and create a shelf-stable, safe product that could dazzle the marketplace.

Now, after Wegmans began stocking two varieties of Springer’s spices in 100 of the supermarket’s largest stores across the East Coast, the entrepreneur is off and running—and she credits NYSTAR programs for getting her small business started.

 

From Queens incubator to Shark Tank


Before they were making a deal with Lori Grenier on the TV show Shark TankPizza Cupcake founders Andrea and Michelle Meggiato were scaling their business and fulfilling orders at the Entrepreneur Space, a program administered by the Queens Economic Development Corporation and part of the NYSTAR network.

The company rented time at the incubator’s commercial kitchen to make their vegetarian and meat pizzas that are sized and shaped like a muffin, growing their business at pop-up markets and becoming a vendor at the New York Mets’ Citi Field during baseball season.

With its success on Shark Tank, Pizza Cupcake now has approximate annual sales of $5 million, and has placed their product in major gourmet stores across the U.S. It’s also amplified the capabilities of Entrepreneur Space, which allows food start-ups with small followings to grow their business outside of their home kitchens before transitioning to a built-out leased space.

That was the path taken by Sarah Magid and Knead Love, a bakery that specializes in gluten-free, nutrient dense baked goods. Magid built a small following baking at home with a Home Processors registration, then rented space at the commercial kitchen with QEDC. She began by using the incubator’s commercial kitchen once a week. Soon, she was up to eight shifts a week before leaving for her own facility in Brooklyn—and with an estimated annual sales revenue of $130K.

Along with offering commercial kitchen space, QEDC offers one-to-one counseling on business goals, marketing strategies, and production solutions.

 

Sparking commercial success for food entrepreneurs


Oftentimes, the most challenging part of any small business journey is the decision to start, and what this commitment entails.

For those ready to start their entrepreneurial journey, there’s Food Spark from the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture. The initiative helps early stage start-ups looking to start or grow a food or beverage business by providing tuition assistance to the 10-week virtual eCornell Food Product Development Certificate program. Designed and led by leading food science experts at the Cornell Food Venture Center (CFVC) (based at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva), courses guide participants through a variety of initial steps for startups, including the process of developing a framework to bring a product from prototype to market.

This guidance has proved valuable for an impressive cohort of former Food Spark participants, including those riding upward industry trends. In the plant-based sector, there’s Full of Beans (New York City), which developed a 100% plant-based protein pancake and waffle mix. In the exploding non-alcoholic beverage market, there’s Kombucharista (Rochester), which makes kombucha-based pre-made mocktails for those thirsty for probiotics or a seat amid the burgeoning “sober-curious” movement.

In both cases, Food Spark provided a hand through those precarious first steps of entrepreneurship. But with its continued guidance—and that of other NYSTAR-supported incubators and programs across the state—entrepreneurs can find needed support toward eventual success.

These are just a few examples of NYSTAR and its centers supporting innovations in food and agriculture spaces. To learn more about NYSTAR and the resources available to innovators in New York, visit Empire State Development’s website

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