Innovative thinking: 25 visionaries to pitch their ideas at Accelerate civic pitch competition

Back in 2016, kindergarten teacher Ben Colas attended Cleveland Leadership Center’s Accelerate civic pitch competition to promote his pre-kindergarten preparation project KinderKits.

<span class="content-image-text">Ben Colas</span>Ben ColasHis pitch won in the Educating for Tomorrow category six years ago, and KinderKits proved successful—students who used Colas’ kits went from recognizing fewer than 5% of their letters, and fewer than 10% recognizing numbers in 2015, to more than 65% recognizing letters and 75% recognizing numbers in 2016—and by the end of 2018 Colas had distributed more than 5,000 KinderKits.

Now, in 2022, Colas is returning to the eighth annual Accelerate civic pitch competition on Thursday, Feb. 24 with his latest entrepreneurial idea: Ascend.

Ascend is a benefit employers can offer employees to help them thrive as parents. Employees receive customized coaching around academics, child development, and proven ways to foster attachment, security, and to build lifelong memories.

“There’s no role as rewarding (or challenging) as being a parent,” Colas wrote in his 2022 Accelerate application. “Between the pandemic, Great Resignation, and new models of schooling and learning, the opportunity and need to support parents has never been greater. As a parent and former educator and education entrepreneur, I look forward to sharing my vision for Cleveland employers to serve as a model of what good looks like in supporting employees to thrive as they raise their children.”

The Cleveland Leadership Center has once again partnered with Citizens Bank to present the 25 semi-finalists, including Colas, pitching bright ideas in six categories: Authentic Cleveland Experiences; Economic Prosperity; Education; Health & Well-being; Quality of Life; and Social Change.

Panels of judges drawn from community leaders will select one finalist in each category. The six finalists will pitch to the audience, which will vote on the winner. The winner receives $5,000 and the five finalists each receive $2,000. 

Another participant team this year is Alesia Copening and her daughter, seven-year-old Amari Sims (the youngest Accelerate participant this year), who are pitching Project C.H.A.N.C.E. (Choosing Health Awareness Never Choosing Epilepsy) concept.
Project C.H.A.N.C.E offers emotional support to children ages five through 14 living with epilepsy and support to their parents through virtual and in-person engagement events.

“I’m a mother, philanthropist, author, and student of life,” Alesia wrote in her application. “I chose to pitch at Accelerate to involve my daughter, Amari, in life changing efforts. I want her to understand the importance of turning her trials into triumphs and being a light to others. We both enjoy giving back to the community and networking so an opportunity like this is the perfect fit.”

In addition to the civic pitch competition, there are several other events at Accelerate. A Technovation competition sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation will feature five pitches from among the six Accelerate categories that leverage technology to address a community challenge. A panel of judges will select the Technovation winner, who will receive $3,500. 

And Accelerate 2018 winner Tory Coats, who won for his Dare 2 Believe teen entrepreneur pop up shops, will be at Accelerate’s Burton D. Morgan Foundation Teen Enterprise Pop-Up shop with young entrepreneurs to share Dare 2 Believe’s products and services.

Accelerate 2022 is open to the public and will take place at 4 p.m. at the Global Center for Health Innovation. Final pitches begin at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $35; $20 students. Strict COVID protocols will be in place. Destination Cleveland will offer masks and hand sanitizer packets to attendees as part of its Clean Committed program.

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.