Grow-NY competition offers glimpse of future ag tech

A company that makes and markets allergen-free food took the $1 million top prize at this year’s Grow-NY competition. But other companies that won lesser awards are working on technologies as well. This was the third year of the Grow-NY competition, which is open to agribusiness startups that are less than 7 years old. The application process starts in late winter and culminates in awards being announced in the fall.

The top winner receives $1 million. Two runners-up this year received $500,000 each, and four other companies each received a $250,000 prize. Each company will be paired with a business mentor and will receive ongoing business development training. 

Ascribe Bioscience, founded in 2017 at the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University, has developed a biopesticide, Phytalix, that primes a plant’s immune system to fight off pathogens. Jay Farmer, co-founder and CEO of Ascribe Bioscience, says it was developed after the discovery of a signaling molecule produced by a soil-borne pathogen to communicate with other microbes.

Plants can eavesdrop on this “conversation” and perceive the molecule as an early warning that they are about to be attacked. “In response, plants prime their defenses in preparation for a likely pathogen attack. That is the phenomenon that we’re really leveraging with our product,” Farmer says. “We’re able to induce this defense priming in a plant by applying this specific molecule.”

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