ITHACA, N.Y.—For a pair of small Ithaca businesses, it’s time to polish their business pitch and cross their fingers. Ascribe Bioscience and Heat Inverse have been named finalists in this year’s Grow-NY food and agriculture competition.

As the Grow-NY contest bills itself, “Grow-NY is a business competition focused on growing an enduring food and agriculture innovation cluster in the Grow-NY region. The competition attracts innovative, high-growth food and agriculture startups from across the globe and engages them in the region’s rapidly-growing startup ecosystem.” The contest is jointly administered by Empire State Development, the state government’s economic development wing, and Cornell University, as the state’s land-grant institution with New York’s premier food science and agriculture programs.

Twenty selected Grow-NY competition finalists enter a second round in which they pitch their business ideas for a chance to win a $1 million prize, with two $500,000 prizes and four $250,000 prizes for the runner-ups. Actually receiving the prize money is contingent on a plan to stay and build their business in Upstate New York in either Central New York, the Finger Lakes, or the Southern Tier.

Heat Inverse, which has been a finalist in other startup competitions, is based out of the Rev business incubator in downtown Ithaca. The company has developed a thin-film “photonic metamaterial” that offers cooling solutions with none of the energy input or waste heat associated with conventional cooling—in laymen’s terms (and laymen’s benefits), “think passive air conditioning in a thin film.” The firm states their work has the power to revolutionize cooling technologies in agriculture and food production, with the initial market involving applications to refrigerated trucking.

Ascribe Bioscience, founded in 2017 by Ithaca scientists Jay Farmer and Murli Manohar, is based out of the McGovern Center life science business incubator in Weill Hall on Cornell’s campus. The firm uses naturally occurring molecules from the soil to produce a novel class of broadly-applicable, non-toxic biopesticides that prime the immune systems of plants to enhance resistance to pathogens and increase crop yields.

The firms will make their pitches to a live audience and panel of judges during a two-day program summit in Syracuse on Nov. 16-17, which includes a symposium and networking events alongside the business competition. The winner and runner-ups will be announced at the end of the summit.

Ithaca-area firms have had some success at the Grow-NY competition in the past few years. In 2019, local startups Capro-X and Combplex were named runner-ups, each receiving $250,000. Since that time, they’ve added a few jobs apiece and expanded local facilities and partnerships. In 2020, Halomine, a local startup born out of Cornell research that specializes in extended-protection anti-microbial sprays, won a $250,000 runner-up award in the Grow-NY competition.

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at