Fresh ideas: 32 teams to present at 2023 Accelerate pitch, Teen Accelerate added this year

After eight years of seeing businesses launch from the Accelerate: Citizens Make Change civic pitch competition, Cleveland Leadership Center president and CEO Marianne Crosley knows that the participants pitching their ideas are bound to succeed in one way or another.

“Even if they’re not winners, these businesses can take their ideas [to fruition],” she says. “For some individuals, that modest idea [they pitched] sparked their passions and the businesses come to fruition.”

<span class="content-image-text">Accelerate 2022</span>Accelerate 2022Crosley cites two successful businesses that began as Accelerate pitches—Rust Belt Riders, which diverts food waste away from landfills into composting bins, and nonprofit creative writing development center Literary Cleveland. Although neither company won Accelerate, both successful organizations are thriving contributors to the Cleveland community.

Crosley says the organizations are two examples of Accelerate’ s mission: “It’s positive change for Cleveland,” she says. “It gives you such confidence—resilience and confidence to take things to the next level.”

The Cleveland Leadership Center, in partnership with Citizens, will present the ninth annual Accelerate at the Huntington Convention Center on Thursday, Feb. 23, when 37 individuals, ranging in age from 12 to 72, will present 32 social enterprise ideas.

“We give voice to all ideas that are shared with the Cleveland community and could lead to social change,” says Crosley, adding that the event brings plenty of excitement, anticipation, and support for the competitors.

“All of these individuals who are going to pitch their ideas, with all of the nerves, and people going from room to room—and the fact that it all happens simultaneously adds a bit to the chaos,” she says. “But we want people to feel the energy and all the support that goes with the competition. Everybody who is there is in your corner; everyone there wants you to succeed.”

The presenters will pitch in one of six categories: Cleveland Experiences & Excursions; Economic Prosperity; Education; Health & Wellbeing; Quality of Life; and Social Change.

One finalist from each of the six categories will be chosen by a panel of community leaders to go to the finals, where the six finalists will compete a second time and the audience will choose a winner. The winner received $5,000 and the finalists receive $2,000 each.

“The judges every year have such a terrible time because it’s so difficult to choose a winner,” observes Crosley.

<span class="content-image-text">One finalist from each of the six categories will be chosen by a panel of community leaders to go to the finals</span>One finalist from each of the six categories will be chosen by a panel of community leaders to go to the finalsA Technovation competition sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation joins Accelerate for the fourth year, featuring five pitches that leverage technology to address a community challenge. A panel of judges will select the Technovation winner in the final program, who will receive $3,500.

Additionally, this year’s program will feature Teen Accelerate: Student Citizens Make Change, in partnership with the Young Entrepreneur Institute of University School. Even though many past Accelerate competitions have seen teenagers pitch ideas, this is the first year high school students will pitch in their own event.

“It really helps young people in terms of how to make a positive impact in Cleveland and really make change,” says Crosley. “It’s exciting to see the reach and diversity of ideas coming from the students who are coming to pitch.”

Students in January applied in writing, explaining what their prospective community initiative is and how it will benefit the greater Cleveland community. Twelve teams of 21 presenters from high schools around Northeast Ohio were then chosen to pitch their ideas at Teen Accelerate.

The top winner receives $1,000 and is paired up with a mentor; the runner-up receives $500; and the remaining 10 competitors receive $250 each.

Ilene Frankel, executive director of the Young Entrepreneur Institute, says the Institute team is excited to be a part of Accelerate this year. “Having a contest like Accelerate lets kids really dig in and showcase [their causes],” she says. “We know kids care deeply about these social issues. We want our kids to have that voice and see outside the walls of the school.”

<span class="content-image-text">Accelerate 2022 Finalists</span>Accelerate 2022 FinalistsFrankel says she had 34 applications with72 students for the pitch competition and she say she hopes to see participation grow in future years. She adds that today’s high school students are familiar with elevator pitches from watching shows like “Shark Tank.” She says many of the pitches center around mental health, sustainability, and clean water.

While teaching entrepreneurship helps foster critical thinking, creativity, flexibility, resilience, and teamwork, says Frankel, the students can also learn from listening to other entrepreneurs present their pitches at Accelerate.

She says it helps foster the entrepreneurial spirit already percolating in her students.

“Teens care deeply about the world they live in and making it a better place,” Frankel says. “We need to start listening and helping them find their voices in the community.”

Accelerate is on Thursday, Feb. 23 from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, 300 Lakeside Ave. E. Use Lakeside entrance. Doors open at 4 p.m., category pitches and Teen Accelerate start at 4:30 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. The finalist competition and award began in at 7:15 p.m., with networking occurring throughout the event.

Tickets are $35 for general registration, and $25 for students. Sponsor tickets are $50 and patron tickets are $100.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.