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Airtonomy, a Grand Forks company, wins international competition and earns $1 million grand prize

The results of the GENIUS NY competition were announced late Tuesday morning. Autonomy employees watched the announcement in real time at a viewing event in the community room of the Grand Forks Herald building, where Airtonomy has its headquarters. The crowd of employees erupted into cheers as the results were announced.

Airtonomy, a Grand Forks-based unmanned aircraft systems startup company, on Tuesday won an international competition and $1 million.

The results of the GENIUS NY competition were announced late Tuesday morning. Autonomy employees watched the announcement in real time at a viewing event in the community room of the Grand Forks Herald building, where Airtonomy has its headquarters. The crowd of employees erupted into cheers as the results were announced.

Jim Higgins, Airtonomy's chief operating officer and co-founder, while pouring champagne for those present, said he was thrilled to hear the news.

“We are ecstatic, and it was just a fantastic team effort,” Higgins said. “We’re very thankful for the community, we’re very thankful for the state and we’re just thankful for our partners in the room here today. It really is a team win, but it’s also a community win.”

GENIUS NY, started in 2017, is an accelerator competition focused on unmanned systems, robotics and big data startups. It is the biggest in the world of its kind.

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In August, Airtonomy was selected as one of five finalists out of more than 600 applicants. Airtonomy was the only company from the Midwest to be chosen as a finalist and one of only two finalists from the United States, the other being based in New York, while the other three finalists were from Germany, Poland and Switzerland. Each finalist received $500,000 to grow their companies during participation in the program while accruing money, connections and other resources. The winner, Autonomy, received an extra $500,000.

Airtonomy, which was created in 2017, employs 25 people, 18 of whom are based in North Dakota. The company has tripled its staff over the past year, and co-founder and CEO Josh Riedy wants to triple it again by the end of 2022. Riedy said the majority of the first-place prize money will go toward further expansion of its workforce.

“Most of it will go toward building that team and that expansion,” Riedy said. “We are a people-first company, and that’s our resource. So, that’s the lion’s share of the dollars, and really what we’re doing is think of this as a bridge between now and our first Series A investment with professional investors coming in, and we look to have that Series A investment coming in 2022.”

Riedy said the ride the company is on right now began in 2019, when it was awarded a $100,000 TechSpark grant from Microsoft.

“To kind of get your start with Microsoft, and this is by no means the end, but I think of it as just another milestone along the way,” Riedy said. “It shows progress. That’s what I look at, because it shows how far we’ve come, but it also shows the opportunity that lies in front of us, and I think that’s probably most exciting. With validation comes opportunity.”

Microsoft TechSpark Manager Taya Spelhaug praised Airtonomy shortly after the award was announced Tuesday.

"In 2019, we partnered locally with Airtonomy and the UND Aerospace Foundation to spark innovation across the region and assist in fostering a breakthrough in autonomous UAS operations," Spelhaug said in a statement sent to the Grand Forks Herald. "Airtonomy exemplifies the spirit and intent of Microsoft TechSpark in our quest to foster innovation and support the region through digital transformation."

Related Topics: TECHNOLOGY
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