Bergen company CEO took his shot and won in Grow-NY competition
After two days of enjoying himself at a Grow-NY convention, Paul Guglielmo knew it was time to get serious. He was approaching his time to be on stage pitching for up to a million bucks to expand his Craft Cannery business.
Enter Alexander Hamilton. Or at least the soundtrack of the famed Broadway musical about America’s founding father. No wonder Guglielmo chose this piece of music to pump him up before his turn came: “I’m not throwing away my shot,” begins one of the tunes in a spunky rap-sung style.
And he certainly didn't. He just learned Wednesday that his pitch won a $500,000 prize.
“It really worked. By the time I stepped on stage I was really psyched,” Guglielmo said Thursday about giving his pitch during the Grow-NY competition in Syracuse. “There was so much energy.”
The news was embargoed until Thursday, but Guglielmo figured there’s always the “mom rule,” so he confided in her before the news became public.
“She screamed at the top of her lungs,” he said. “We did a lot of practice, I’d say at least 50 times; it was well-rehearsed, but not memorized. There were six judges, sort of six disciplines all related to the food and agriculture business. The $500,000 is a really, really big deal, of course, but also having six people at the absolute tops of their field in food and agriculture give you that kind of validation, hearing your plan and say ‘we believe in that plan,’ that’s a big deal too. It really is a big deal.”
He received the award Wednesday night on behalf of the Bergen-based company. The top three priorities he pitched involved job creation, expansion of the building on Appletree Avenue, and the purchase of needed equipment. Most likely, it won’t happen in that order, though, as a building expansion needs to be done first in order to fit more equipment and then hire additional people to help operate everything.
Guglielmo (inset photo left), has been supported throughout his entrepreneurial journey by his wife Ryann, who assists with the company’s marketing, and partner Tom Riggio (inset photo, right). For more, go to the company website.
First up on the task list is to hire an architect and move forward with an expansion, Guglielmo said. That should be happening during the next several months, he said.
“Monday, we’ll have our first set of meetings, and have a goal of that being done in a year,” he said. “We have the land to do 10,000 square feet."
With a personality that tends to be “all over the place,” one big lesson he has learned from this experience is to focus. The judges homed in on various elements of his pitch, and pointed out an area he hadn’t really thought about, he said: the diversity of his staff. While clients and the advisory board are diverse groups, his staff looks like Bergen, he said: nine white people. He has attempted to recruit temp workers from an Afghan-based employee pool, but workers didn’t have transportation. He appreciated the panel’s point.
“The efforts have been made. And there's barriers that need to be broken down, specifically with the transportation, because I've heard a couple of times, well, where's the nearest bus stop, and we don't have one. And so that's a barrier,” he said. “So it's something that I would like to pay a lot more attention to and do a better job of.”
Once expansion and new equipment purchases happen, then Craft Cannery will be looking to hire “realistically between two and five people,” the Brighton resident said. Although the “B2B” company produces well-known products, it sells to businesses versus directly to the public. As a result, it hasn’t garnered a whole lot of attention — until now. Guglielmo knows how challenging it can be to pursue a business dream, and he wants entrepreneurs to know that Craft Cannery is there to help.
“The first thing I ever thought when I wanted to start my pasta sauce business was that it was almost for sure that the answer I would get would be that it was impossible. And I couldn't believe it when I finally started to have some people take me seriously, like the people at Cornell University and their food venture center,” he said. “When they took me seriously, I was like, ‘Oh my God, somebody's actually taking me seriously that I want to bottle this sauce. This is so cool.’”
Governor Kathy Hochul announced the winners of the Grow-NY business competition Thursday, including the top prize recipient ProAgni of Lavington, Australia, for the $1 million grand prize.
Now in its fourth year, the program once again attracted exceptional startups and entrepreneurial talent from around the globe to compete in its business development accelerator and two-day pitch competition at the Grow-NY Summit, Hochul’s press release stated.
ProAgni and Craft Cannery were two of eight finalists to take home prize money. The winning teams must commit to operating in the Central New York, Finger Lakes, or Southern Tier regions for at least one year while providing Grow-NY with a small equity investment stake in their entity. Funding for the competition, which is administered by Cornell University's Center for Regional Economic Advancement, is provided through the state's Upstate Revitalization Initiative.
"Congratulations to all of the forward-thinking entrepreneurs that took part in the fourth round of the Grow-NY competition," Hochul said. "This competition not only helps these companies continue to innovate, but it further supports New York State's regional economies by drawing even more worldwide attention to our globally renowned food and agriculture industry.”
In all, 390 startups applied from 52 countries, including Singapore, Australia, and Sri Lanka. In the U.S., 25 states were represented, including 92 entries from New York. The 20 finalists, including Craft Cannery, received dedicated mentorship from hand-selected regional business advisors leading up to the competition.
Those selected as winners will now immediately get to work executing their business plans in New York state, leveraging the connections made and regional knowledge gained from the competition, the release stated.
More than 1,200 people registered for the fourth annual Grow-NY Summit. The 20 finalists gave highly-anticipated business pitches to a panel of six judges reflecting a depth and breadth of agriculture, food production, and venture development expertise, who listened to each pitch and asked probing questions, before deliberating to determine the top winners, it stated.
"Grow-NY has become one of New York's finest annual traditions, shining a spotlight on the many diverse, innovative, exciting agricultural and food businesses across the State,” Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball said. “I thank Governor Hochul for her continued support of the Grow-NY competition and send my congratulations to all of the winners and participants this year. I look forward to seeing you create the technologies and jobs of the future while continuing to provide a boost to our local farmers."
Craft Cannery promotes itself as taking cherished recipes from your kitchen to the shelves of grocery stores, restaurants, farmers markets and beyond, specializing in the contract manufacturing of sauces, dressings, marinades, and more.
Grow-NY judges based award decisions on the following criteria:
- The viability of the startup's business model
- The diversity, quality, readiness, and completeness of the startup team
- The value that the startup offers customers
- The agrifood innovation that that the startup has invented
Prior coverage includes:
- Sauce boss buys Bergen food manufacturing plant
- Bergen business owner takes food prep to a whole other level
- Bergen entrepreneur a top 20 for Grow-NY competition
Top photo submitted of Paul Guglielmo, center, celebrating his win Wednesday in Syracuse.