Jovelle Tamayo/Courtesy of The New York Times

Clean Label Solution, which developed a feed for dairy cows, has been named a finalist for the 2023 Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit competition.

October 11, 2023

Ithaca-Based Agricultural Company Named Finalist in International AgTech Business Competition 

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Clean Label Solution, an Ithaca-based agricultural technology company, was named a top 20 finalist in the 2023 Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit. As a finalist, Clean Label Solution will go on to compete in November for $3 million in prize money as a part of the agricultural competition. 

Founded in 2019 by Mohammad Arshadi, Clean Label Solution uses low-cost and environmentally friendly technologies to create livestock nutritional products for farmers in the areas of dairy cattle, poultry and aquaculture. They also provide technical support to others in waste management. 

Arshadi received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Isfahan University of Technology in Iran, before he went on to conduct his postdoctoral research at Cornell University from 2017 to 2020. In 2019, he founded Clean Label Solution in part because he wanted to create a dairy feed that would maximize the amount of protein that dairy cattle could digest. 

“I came up with a solution for the problem right now in the dairy farm industry. [Farmers] told us, the soy based animal feed right now is used as a feed for the cattle,” Arshadi said. “At least 10 to 20 percent protein is lost or wasted as manure because it’s not digestible. It’s not processed properly.” 

Arshadi described the unique digestive process of cattle that he had to account for when developing his product. 

“The rumen [a compartment of a cow’s stomach] goes through the fermentation process,” Arshadi said. “Microbial proteins or bacteria inside the rumen eat and digest and degrade the large molecules into small molecules [so it] can be digested by the other bacteria to be converted to the protein and fat.” 

Arshadi’s solution is a new soy-based feed for dairy cattle that contains high levels of bypass proteins that are highly digestible by cattle. The product also increases the microbial protein within the digestive system of dairy cattle, all while remaining cost-effective for dairy farmers. 

“We developed a single step fermentation process so we help the ruminate cow spend less time digesting — through a natural process in [our] technology. As the productivity of the cow improves, milk and production increases,” Arshadi said. “In order to provide energy for dairy cows, [farmers] use an important source of fat-like palm oil in the ration because soybean oil is toxic — but through our process, the [soybean] oil is not toxic anymore to the cow.” 

Arshadi faced many financial struggles in the early stages of Clean Label Solution. In order to meet all expenses of the startup, Arshadi said that he worked as an Uber driver at night in addition to developing his company. 

“I didn’t have any money. I stepped down from Cornell exactly [at] the pickup of the pandemic in 2020 and for a couple of months, maybe five or six months, I worked as an Uber,” Arshadi said. “In the morning I reached out to the dairy farms, worked on finding a partner and marketed my product, and in the evening until the middle of the night, I worked as an Uber to make my expenses to be able to reach my goal and believe in the dream.”

Three hundred and twenty-three startups entered the competition, and only 20 — including Clean Label Solution — were selected for the finals. Jenn Smith, Grow-NY program director, explained the purpose of the competition. 

“Grow-NY is a strategy for regional economic development. We know that, disproportionately, startups add new jobs to an economy,” Smith said. “And here in upstate New York we have a well established tradition of growing, making, moving, storing and selling food. We have a really rich agricultural tradition and a lot of interesting food production — so let’s lean on that sector and help support it with the attraction of innovation into the region.”

The winners of the contest will be decided at the 2023 Grow-NY Summit in November. In order to decide on winners and finalists, judges focus on six main criteria. According to Smith, the criteria include viability of the plan for commercialization, the cohesion of the team — including the readiness and diversity of the team — the customer value, innovation, potential for growth and regional job creation. 

In November, $3 million total will be allotted to the winners. Smith explained how this prize money is raised. 

“Money comes directly from the regions that it serves — the Upstate Revitalization Initiative was a funding program that came out of then-Gov. Cuomo’s office, and that effectively allotted a large amount of money to the Finger Lakes, Central New York in the Southern Tier to invest as they saw best in projects for economic development,” Smith said. “[Each region] agreed to put up $5 million each for three years of the competition. So we give away $9 million in prizes, and the rest is used for operations for support of the finalists.”

Arshadi is currently working hard to achieve his goal of making Clean Label Solution both a national and international business serving farmers all over the world. If he is a winner, Arshadi plans to reinvest the prize money to expand his company, making his dream a reality. 

“My main goal is to expand the business to other states and even Canada, Brazil and Mexico,” Arshadi said, adding that if he wins, he plans to reinvest the prize in a new facility that Clean Label Solution is building in Waterloo. “It has raised room access so we will be able to expand the business nationally and globally. That’s my goal, to reinvest it in upstate New York to be able to expand our business faster than before.” 

Dalton Mullins ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].