GENIUS NY Program Builds on Progress of CNY Rising - The Region's Comprehensive Strategy to Create Good Jobs and Attract Businesses to Central New York
Governor Kathy Hochul today announced that Airtonomy, of Grand Forks, North Dakota, is the $1 million grand prize winner of round five of the GENIUS NY accelerator competition. The year-long GENIUS NY program is the world's largest business competition focused on unmanned systems, cross-connected platforms and other technology-based sectors. Airial Robotics of Hamburg, Germany, CarScanner of Krakow, Poland, Circle Optics of Rochester, NY and WindShape of Geneva, Switzerland were each awarded investments of $500,000 following the round five virtual pitch event. The teams will use these investments to continue to accelerate their growth and expand their presence in the region. To date, New York State has invested $25 million in GENIUS NY over five rounds of the competition. GENIUS NY participants are required to operate their business in Central New York for at least one year.
"The GENIUS NY competition continues to transform the landscape of Central New York by attracting the next generation of innovative entrepreneurs from around the world to the region," Governor Hochul said, "Our continued investment in unmanned aerial system businesses is helping to ensure that New York remains the leader in this important industry and brings quality jobs and economic growth to Central New York."
The GENIUS NY program, which is administered by CenterState CEO's Tech Garden in Syracuse, offers participants incubator space, company resources, programming and mentoring. Since 2017, GENIUS NY companies have raised more than $73.5 million in follow-on funding and have created 60 jobs in the region. The advancement of the GENIUS NY program builds on the progress of CNY Rising, the region's award-winning strategic plan to revitalize communities and grow the economy.
Grand prize winner Airtonomy, which was started in 2018 and has 25 employees, enables anyone to collect data uniformly using autonomous vehicles or drones. It makes complex flight as easy as pushing a button so that a wind technician, security guard or power lineman can operate a drone safely and consistently, and collect data uniformly. This means data collected can be processed automatically using machine learning and turned into actionable intelligence for an organization.
Airtonomy founder and CEO Dr. Joshua R. Riedy said, "Airtonomy is transforming the UAS landscape and is honored to be selected as the GENIUS NY 2021 winner. This award will fuel Airtonomy's continued growth and will result in the hiring of local talent and the direct investment in the UAS ecosystem, including throughout the Central. The GENIUS NY program, especially the amazing people and organizations involved, have been incredible. We look forward to reciprocating the support we've experienced with other startups in the region. GENIUS NY exemplifies the type of expertise, networking, and support crucial for the success of a startup. We've gotten to know the other finalists very well and every one of them is outstanding so we're proud to be in their company."
Director of GENIUS NY at CenterState CEO Kara Jones said, "Pitch Finals is an important milestone for the teams participating in the GENIUS NY program. It provides an initial investment to accelerate their growth and marks the successful completion of the program's first phase," said Kara Jones, director of GENIUS NY at CenterState CEO. The teams will now begin the second phase of this competition, where they will utilize the input received from judges to go to market, build stronger partnerships with GENIUS NY teams from prior rounds, and focus on technology and business development, hiring and establishing headquarters and offices in Central New York. Each team will receive targeted support from mentors and advisers and will have additional opportunities to meet with investors to ensure their success."
Rob Simpson, president of CenterState CEO said, "The investments made through the GENIUS NY program, coupled with resources and support programming, will accelerate the growth of these high-potential UAS companies and the UAS sector in our region. As they establish their businesses in the region we will provide targeted business development support to enable them to leverage these investments, advance their technologies and platforms, create jobs and contribute to the growing UAS ecosystem we have established in Central New York."
In addition to the GENIUS NY accelerator competition, New York State is focused on making major investments in the unmanned aircraft systems industry in Central New York and the Mohawk Valley. In 2016, New York state committed a $30 million investment to develop a 50-mile drone test corridor between Syracuse and Rome through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative. In 2020, officials unveiled Skydome, a small unmanned aerial system, or SUAS, experimentation and test facility at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, Oneida County. Today, the world's first 50-mile Unmanned Traffic Management Corridor between Syracuse and Rome is a global leader for testing UAS platforms and innovations.
Empire State Development Chief Operating Officer and Executive Deputy Commissioner Kevin Younis said, "The GENIUS NY business accelerator competition is helping to fuel the continued growth of the Unmanned Aerial Systems industry in Central New York. Congratulations to all of these companies that are bringing entrepreneurial ideas to the region, where they can take advantage of New York State's unmatched UAS assets and infrastructure."
State Senator Rachel May said, "I congratulate Airtonomy on winning the grand prize of this year's GENIUS NY competition and look forward to the investments they will make in our region and economy. The energy and innovation they represent is vital to continuing to build a thriving entrepreneurship economy in Central New York. Each of this year's winners will help our local economy prosper and retain the talent we need to make our region stronger."
State Senator John W. Mannion said, "Central New York has a great history of innovation and companies like Airtonomy and all of the GENIUS NY participants are carrying on that tradition. They are driving the jobs and economy of tomorrow and I look forward to seeing them grow in our community. I am grateful to Governor Hochul for supporting New York's entrepreneurs and UAS industry."
State Senator Al Stirpe said, "Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 GENIUS NY competition, particularly Airtonomy for taking the grand prize. These companies will be a welcome addition to Central New York's flourishing tech industry. For the past five years, the GENIUS NY program has invested in startups that are looking to change the way our communities function and connects them to resources that supports their growth. I look forward to seeing how these startups transform the future of our region and the global tech market."
Assemblymember William B. Magnarelli said, "The Genius NY competition continues to help Central New York maintain its status as a hub for innovative companies exploring unmanned aerial systems and other leading-edge technologies. I look forward to watching its collaboration, with both the Tech Garden and local companies, bring expertise and new ideas to the forefront of the unmanned aerial systems industry."
Assemblymember Pamela Hunter said, "Innovations relative to unmanned systems continue to strengthen our central New York economy. The recent awards from Governor Hochul shines a spotlight on the technological strength of our local companies and ongoing potential in workforce development. Congratulations to all the finalists and $1 million award winner AIrtonomy."
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said, "It is incredibly exciting to see the emerging UAS industry continue to grow right here in downtown Syracuse. On behalf of Onondaga County, I congratulate and welcome these innovative companies who are ready to put down roots in Central New York. I have no doubt that they will continue to play an important role in our regions' overall economic success."
City of Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said, "Congratulations to Airtonomy and welcome to the exciting ecosystem for unmanned aerial systems technology that is growing in the City of Syracuse and Central New York. The GENIUS NY competition has helped expand our entrepreneurial culture and contributed to the Syracuse Surge, our strategy for inclusive growth in the New Economy. I thank Governor Hochul for ensuring that New York State continues to invest in this important economic development initiative."
Central New York Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chairs Randy Wolken, President & CEO of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY), and Deborah Stanley, President of the State University of New York at Oswego said, "Many Congratulations to GENIUS NY round five winner Airtonomy. We are incredibly proud to welcome these imaginative entrepreneurs to the Central New York as they commit to growing their innovative business in this region. Through the regional council's continued support for the GENIUS NY competition, we are ensuring that New York state remains at the forefront of the growing UAS industry in Central New York, creating new opportunities and jobs for residents in the region for generations to come."
The GENIUS NY teams' business plans and pitches were judged by Captain Houston Mills, vice president of Flight Operations and Safety at UPS; Theresa Mazzullo, CEO of Excell Partners; Chedy Hampson, founder and CEO of TCGplayer; Kelly Wypych, consultant and retired CEO at Cryomech; Clayton Besch, director of Empire State's Development's New York Ventures.
To learn more about GENIUS NY, click here.
To learn more about CenterState CEO and the Tech Garden, visit: https://www.centerstateceo.com/about-us/partners-programs/tech-garden
Accelerating CNY Rising
Today's announcement complements "CNY Rising," the region's comprehensive blueprint to generate robust economic growth and community development. The regionally designed plan focuses on capitalizing on global market opportunities, strengthening entrepreneurship and creating an inclusive economy. Now, the region is accelerating CNY Rising with a $500 million State investment through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative. The State's $500 million investment will incentivize private business to invest well over $2.5 billion - and the region's plan, as submitted, projects up to 5,900 new jobs. More information is available here.
This years GENIUS NY Pitch Finals premieres on October 26 at noon. Watch our 5 finalists pitch their innovative startups to a panel of judges and see who is awarded $1 million.
Meet the judges
A Q&A with Josh Reidy, CEO at Airtonomy
Company HQ: Headquartered in Grand Forks, North Dakota
Team Size: 25 – 30 employees
Focus: Drone Data Management
Tell us about your company:
Airtonomy enables its customers to collect data uniformly using autonomous vehicles, in particular drones. We do that by making complex flight possible with push the button. In doing do so it is a matter of hours to train a Part 107 certified individual, such as a wind technician or a security guard or a power lineman to operate drones safely and also operate them consistently. Meaning, that regardless of who operates the drone, the outcome, the sensor data is highly uniform. By doing that on the front end, not only do we allow anyone to be able to capture the information, we also enable that data to be processed automatically using machine learning. By putting those two pieces together, there is an end-to-end workflow that is literally push button easy, fully automated that generates a large volume of data which is in turn actionable intelligence for an organization.
When and how did Airtonomy start?
I quit my day job in 2018 to begin building this company and we’ve been going strong every since. We were fortunate enough to be the first technology startup funded by Microsoft’s TechSpark program. I was fortunate enough to meet their leadership team and not only was their support instrumental but it gave me inspiration to keep going after leaving my day job and seeing this reality come true.
Where did the idea for your startup come from?
My co-founder and I all worked at the University of North Dakota in various capacities. One co-founder was a faculty member in computer science, another co-founder was chair of the aviation department and I was the University’s Chief Information Officer and oversaw research computing. The three of us have various skill-sets with a common focus and we worked together on a prior project so this was natural for us to go down this pathway. We were awarded a grant called The UAS Data Lifecycle as part of the University of North Dakota regional data hub which conceptually morphed into what Airtonomy is today.
Who is your ideal customer?
We work predominately with utilities, starting with publicly traded and also working with cooperatives for the more rural areas. We also work with energy companies and then we have some technology partners that have assisted us, such as Microsoft and Excel Energy, a regional energy company that we’ve worked with. Finding those types of partners, like National Grid would be amazing.
What can we expect from your company in the near future?
We believe there is a point at which drones and autonomous vehicles can really take off and scale, but we also believe the industry hasn’t found that point yet. We feel like if we haven’t found that point yet, we’ve found something very close to that, where the next contracts we’ll be signing are to take our methodology that is in practice with one application such as wind turbine inspections or oil tank inspections, customers who have seen the process and scalability, repeatability, adaptability, will look to expand that across their enterprise. Meaning there is a common software framework for all autonomous vehicle operations. What would be considered success is to see large energy and utility companies that have adopted Airtonomy moving across their enterprise and are connecting various drone hardware, sensor hardware and various analysis routines for literally any purpose that you can imagine.
Why are you excited about GENIUS NY?
We are very proud of where we are from and what we’ve accomplished, but we also realize that there is a next step. We feel like GENIUS NY and this area constitutes that next step to provide great access to capital, greater access to people, not only job candidates but expertise that can help us become a better company and serve our customers better. If we want to operate on the national and international stage, this is the type of next step we need.
What are you most looking forward to while staying in Syracuse?
We look forward to branching out into the community. We have a trip planned to the New York UAS Test Site which we are looking forward to and learning more about the role of Central New York in unmanned aircraft systems.
What will you do with the one million grand prize?
The easiest answer to that is to focus on our growth and our customers and acquiring talent. We are at a point that for us to grow, we have to add employees, predominantly computer scientist, software developers and roboticist.
Check out Aironomy’s career page for job opportunities.