Bergen entrepreneur a Top 20 for Grow-NY competition, to compete in November for $1 million
Paul Guglielmo was sitting at his desk chatting with wife Ryann while he multi-tasked with emails, and spotted one message in particular.
He apologized for the expletive.
“I think I literally went ‘holy s—, I think we got selected for Grow New York,” Guglielmo said during an interview with The Batavian. “The realistic future of the next five years or so … this would accelerate it from a five-year plan to become a two-year plan.”
Earlier this summer, at the end of June, Guglielmo, CEO of Craft Cannery in Bergen, submitted an application for the 2022 Grow-NY competition. He was one of 390 entries. Touted as one of the biggest food and agriculture business competitions in the world targeting companies in the Finger Lakes, Central New York and the Southern Tier, Grow-NY provides opportunities for business owners to go on to a final competition with prizes of $250,000 up to $1 million for business investments.
Guglielmo attended last year’s event and ended up watching every single one of the 20 finalists. They each gave a 10-minute pitch, followed by five minutes of questions from the judges. Think: Shark Tank minus Mark Cuban.
He was impressed, to say the least, with those contenders, and thought ‘how smart’ they all were. It didn’t seriously cross his mind to enter until after a trusted friend and mentor suggested that he go for it. Tom Riggio, who is also his business partner for Craft Cannery, helped Guglielmo with the application.
“We sat down together and went through the application, and kind of punched it up,” Guglielmo said. “There was an option to add a video.”
As it turns out, a prospective company asked for some help to make a batch of new sauces at Craft Cannery. The company had someone who could shoot videos, so they bartered to make some sauce and record a video for the competition.
Guglielmo, who is also founder and CEO of Guglielmo Sauce, said he felt pretty confident going into it at that point. He had the two-minute promo and his own experience and knowledge of what he has — a two-year-old company that began with three employees and now has 10 — and the potential for so much more to double his staff, he said.
He will attend an orientation and get a mentor and a coach to prepare until the final competition on Nov. 16 in Syracuse. His pitch, not quite yet fully fleshed out, is three-pronged:
1. Funding us means funding the creation of other businesses.
“What I love about us is you’re funding all of these other businesses too, at least a few a month,” the 39-year-old said.
2. In order to service our bigger customers, we need the equipment.
3. Sustainability: Craft Cannery takes tomatoes deemed inappropriate for the retail market (they don’t look perfect) and uses them to make “perfect” sauce. By working with Intergrow Greenhouses, there is a potential to process 500,000 pounds of tomatoes that otherwise get tossed due to aesthetics.
“We rescue a couple tons a week of tomatoes headed to the dump … they’re undersized, oversized, and didn’t look good,” he said. “If we were operating in pure perfection, we could do about 200,000 pounds a year. I want to do all 500,000 pounds.”
Right now the company is doing much of the prep work by hand — scrubbing tomatoes, for example — and larger processing equipment would streamline that for more efficiency and ability to take on more product, he said.
Guglielmo’s vision is to create an entire line of New York State grown tomato products, with a full slate of crushed, chopped, diced and sauced versions of the red fruits. All of these plans need an infusion of money to expand the physical footprint of the business and fill a production room with equipment, such as large high-pressure hot water containers that spin tomatoes on metal wheels to peel off their skins and remove the seeds for puree and other similar seedless items.
He could easily spend the top $1 million award, Guglielmo said, but would be grateful for any amount, and is going into the final competition an optimist.
“I’m literally speaking out loud, talking to myself in my car. I want to bring some energy to the room, being energetic and enthusiastic without being corny,” he said. “Worst-case scenario, we come out of it with a really fine-tuned plan.”
Empire State Development is funding the competition through its Upstate Revitalization Initiative connected with the three regions—Finger Lakes Forward, CNY Rising and Southern Tier Soaring. Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement is administering the competition.
Craft Cannery specializes in taking recipes from individuals, restaurants or food production brands, and adjusting it for large production. Customers range from marinara sauces to oils to hot sauces and BBQ sauces to salsas for brands across the region. It’s the exclusive production facility for Guglielmo Sauce, Sticky Lips BBQ, Old Pueblo Grill, Coach Tony’s, Uncle Ralph’s, Red Osier and dozens of other high-profile food brands.
File Photo of Paul Guglielmo, CEO of Craft Cannery in Bergen, by Howard Owens.