Governor Hochul Announces $1 Million Grand Prize Winner of GENIUS NY, the World’s Largest Accelerator for Uncrewed Aerial Systems

Posted on October 5, 2023

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Blueflite co-founders James McClearen and Frank Noppel with the GENIUS NY $1 million grand prize check.

Blueflite Wins GENIUS NY $1 Million Grand Prize; Four Other Finalists Receive $500,000 Investments as Part of $3 Million Awarded to Innovative Companies that Will Now Operate in Syracuse

Investment Complements "CNY Rising" – The Region's Comprehensive Strategy to Revitalize Communities and Grow the Economy

Governor Kathy Hochul announced Blueflite as the $1 million grand prize winner of round seven of the GENIUS NY accelerator. Founded in 2018, the company offers a drone-based logistics platform. It’s patented, unique, and all-electrical drone design has vertical take-off and landing capabilities, advanced maneuverability, and is built to meet the rigorous demands of commercial operations. The GENIUS NY program is the world’s largest business accelerator program focused on uncrewed aerial systems, robotics and IoT. The year-long program, which is administered by CenterState CEO’s Tech Garden in Syracuse, awarded five finalist teams a total of $3 million at Pitch Finals at its Innovation Night event in downtown Syracuse, including the $1 million grand prize and four $500,000 investments. The accelerator also offers incubator space, company resources, programming and mentoring to finalists. Participants are required to operate their business in Central New York for at least one year. To date, New York State has made $21 million in direct investment in 37 GENIUS NY teams over the program’s seven rounds.

“From Micron to supporting innovative entrepreneurs, my administration remains committed to making key investments that are helping to boost and revitalize Central New York,” Governor Hochul said. “As a result, the GENIUS NY competition continues to attract innovative entrepreneurs from around the world who are laser-focused on expanding the ever-evolving aerial system industry in the region, ensuring that New York State remains at the forefront of this vital field, bringing quality jobs and economic growth to the region.”

The five finalist teams pitched their businesses to a panel of judges and the audience during the Pitch Finals at Innovation Night. Following the pitches, all five competitors were awarded one of five investments, with Blueflite winning the grand prize.

Blueflite Co-Founders Frank Noppel and James McClearen said, “Blueflite is thrilled to have won the prestigious GENIUS NY $1M prize, organized by CenterState CEO. We see this as a remarkable achievement and testament to our capabilities, and we are enthusiastic to begin an exciting journey strengthening our presence in the State of New York. The support from GENIUS NY has been invaluable, and we look forward to drive innovation and excellence in the drone industry, benefiting not only our company but also the communities we serve.”

The other four teams received a prize of $500,000: Aloft, GreenJets, Voltela, and VOTIX, which was also named as fan favorite at tonight’s event.

Since 2017, GENIUS NY companies have raised more than $100 million in follow-on funding and have created more than 80 new jobs in New York State. 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.

Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Hope Knight, said, "The GENIUS NY program is fueling the incredible growth of the uncrewed aerial systems industry in Central New York. Congratulations to all of these forward-thinking innovators who are bringing their exceptional entrepreneurial ideas to the region and are ready to take advantage of New York State's unmatched UAS assets and infrastructure."

CenterState President Rob Simpson said, “Investing in the innovative technologies created by GENIUS NY teams helps to spur advancement in the uncrewed aerial systems industry and Central New York’s startup ecosystem. Using these investments, the teams will be able to grow as a company, create jobs and further expand what it means to innovate in Central New York. As CenterState CEO expands its programming to include more diverse entrepreneurs and technologies in the area’s innovation economy, GENIUS NY remains a keystone in our success.”

Director of GENIUS NY Kara Jones said, “Innovation Night brings industry leaders and the greater community together to celebrate the new technologies being developed right here in Central New York. Investing in GENIUS NY companies brings new ideas and new opportunities for collaboration to the region’s startup community. As the teams enter the next phase of the program, they will work to grow their company and advance their technology with the investment made through GENIUS NY and with the help of the team at CenterState CEO’s The Tech Garden.”

Also, during Innovation Night, the inaugural cohort of teams in CenterState CEO’s Syracuse Surge Accelerator were introduced, with their emerging startups on display. The Syracuse Surge Accelerator is a newly launched CenterState CEO program that provides direct resources and support to Black-Indigenous-Persons of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneur founders of tech-related and tech-adjacent startups. The program brings together partners in an intentional effort to build inclusive growth in the local innovation ecosystem.

The Syracuse Surge Accelerator program joins GENIUS NY inside of CenterState CEO’s Inclusive Growth team, which works to attract investment, build wealth, and create good jobs in Central New York while ensuring that members of historically marginalized communities are participating in every aspect of the economy. The Inclusive Growth team seeks to make the region one that is globally competitive, while maintaining an unwavering commitment to economic inclusion and sustainability.

Since 2016, New York State has focused on making major investments in the uncrewed aircraft systems industry, including an initial investment of $35 million to develop a 50-mile, UAS flight traffic management corridor; $30 million for six previous rounds of the GENIUS NY competition; and $16.6 million in ongoing investments for the Tech Garden's expansion in downtown Syracuse to help grow its UAS industry efforts.

State Senator Rachel May, said, “It’s exciting to see the continued success of the GENIUS NY Accelerator. With the announcement of round seven’s winner, this program is now integral to our burgeoning drone industry. It ensures that more tech businesses will call Central New York home, bringing high-paying jobs to the area. There’s no doubt that welcoming these tech companies to the area will benefit our community in many ways. Congratulations to the winner of GENIUS NY, and I look forward to seeing the innovation you bring to Central New York.”

State Senator John W. Mannion, said, “This year’s GENIUS NY finalists are continuing the competition’s great tradition of advancing UAS innovation and entrepreneurship in Central New York. These teams are leading the way in the development of cutting-edge technologies and I am confident they will bring new economic growth and job creation here and throughout the state. I’m proud to support the GENIUS NY competition and I thank Governor Hochul for her commitment to the region. Congratulations to all the finalists for your vision, hard work, and all that you’ve achieved.”

Assemblymember Pamela Hunter said, “Because of our careful investments and the dedication of industry leading innovators, CNY has become a global hub for the development of UAVs and other aerial systems. The applications for these technologies seem to be nearly limitless and I look forward to the new innovations that will come as a result of additional investment through these well-deserved awards under the GENIUS NY accelerator. I thank Governor Hochul for her continued support of CNY based entrepreneurship and congratulate each and every one of the finalists on their amazing work.”

Assemblymember Al Stirpe said, “Congratulations to all of the UAS company competitors who took part in the seventh round of GENIUS NY Accelerator program. Each one of the finalist’s work demonstrates the unmanned aerial systems’ adaptability in diverse industries and the funding awarded is well deserved. The GENIUS NY awards are a critical piece of CNY’s uncrewed aerial systems ecosystem, providing a continuous infusion of new innovative companies. Many thanks to Empire State Development, CenterState CEO and Governor Hochul for leading the way in innovative investments and supporting the job creating aviation industry of the future.”

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, said, “It is simply incredible to see the emerging UAS industry continue to grow right here in downtown Syracuse. On behalf of Onondaga County, I want to congratulate these innovative teams, and welcome them as they commit to establishing roots right here thanks to the GENIUS NY competition. I have no doubt that they will continue to play an important role in our regions' overall economic success."

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said, "GENIUS NY has helped put Syracuse on the map as innovation hub and key center for uncrewed aerial system development and technology startups. The program continues to spur investment in our city and region, creating jobs and supporting our Syracuse Surge strategy for inclusive growth in the New Economy. I congratulate the latest round of winners and thank Governor Hochul and the teams at Empire State Development and CenterState CEO for their commitment to keep GENIUS NY soaring."

Central New York Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chairs Randy Wolken, President & CEO of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York and Le Moyne College President Linda M. LeMura said, "Many Congratulations to all of the GENIUS NY round seven winners. 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."

For additional information about Blueflite, visit: https://www.blueflite.com/.

About GENIUS NY
GENIUS NY is an in-residence business accelerator program at The Tech Garden in Central New York that goes beyond substantial direct investment. In addition to the grand prize of $1 million and four $500,000 investments, the program also offers resources, programming, and connections, making it among the largest competitions of its kind across the globe. The program is funded by Empire State Development and administered by CenterState CEO. For additional information, visit: https://geniusny.com/.

Accelerating CNY Rising
Today's announcement complements “CNY Rising,” the region’s comprehensive strategy 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. More information is available here.

About Empire State Development
Empire State Development (ESD) is New York’s chief economic development agency (www.esd.ny.gov). The mission of ESD is to promote a vigorous and growing economy, encourage the creation of new job and economic opportunities, increase revenues to the State and its municipalities, and achieve stable and diversified local economies. Through the use of loans, grants, tax credits and other forms of financial assistance, ESD strives to enhance private business investment and growth to spur job creation and support prosperous communities across New York State. ESD is also the primary administrative agency overseeing the Regional Economic Development Councils and the marketing of “I LOVE NY" the State’s iconic tourism brand. For more information on Regional Councils and Empire State Development, visit www.regionalcouncils.ny.gov and www.esd.ny.gov.

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