Airtonomy, a Grand Forks-based unmanned aircraft systems startup company, has been named one of five finalists for a grand prize of $1 million in the 2021 GENIUS NY competition.

Airtonomy is the only company from the Midwest to be chosen as a finalist, and it is one of only two finalists from the United States, the other being based in New York. The other three finalists are from Germany, Poland and Switzerland.

Airtonomy currently employs 25 people – a number that has tripled in the past year – with 18 of those positions based in North Dakota.

GENIUS NY, started in 2017, is a multimillion-dollar accelerator competition focused on unmanned systems, robotics and big data startups – the largest of its kind in the world. The five finalists, out of 600 applicants, are selected from all over the world. The finalists receive $500,000 to spur growth while participating in GENIUS NY’s accelerator program, which provides money, resources, mentors and connections to grow the startups. The winning company will be named after the finalists give their final pitch on Oct. 21, and it will be awarded an additional $500,000.

“It’s a pretty eclectic program,” Josh Riedy, co-founder and CEO of Airtonomy, said. “That’s why we’re thankful to be a part of it.”

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Riedy thanked Airtonomy’s early supporters, such as Microsoft TechSpark, the UND Aerospace Foundation, the city of Grand Forks and the Grand Forks Region EDC.

Co-founder Jim Higgins is proud of how far Airtonomy has come already.

“If we become the winner, that would just be the icing on the cake, so to speak,” Higgins said. “The fact that we’re in the top five out of the 600 – it bodes really well for our future, because in one sense it validates us. If we have people that have never really heard of us take a look at our business plan, our customers, the revenue we’re bringing in, the jobs we’re creating in Grand Forks and in North Dakota and all over the place, then they’re saying, ‘Wow, this is a great company. Out of all of these, we’re going to select them.’”

Riedy said one of the reasons Airtonomy applied for the GENIUS NY accelerator program was because no company in North Dakota, or the Midwest region, had ever been selected as a finalist.

“The reason we first applied was to help put North Dakota on the UAS ecosystem map,” Riedy said. “We’re all very proud of where we’re from and the ecosystem that's helped us get to this point. It’s putting North Dakota on the map, but really putting Airtonomy on the map, and hopefully that world takes notice of what we’ve been able to develop. For us, that recognition, along with access to resources, such as investment, is most important.”