Fresh Innovators to be recognized for innovative impacts at virtual Spark: Grit to Great symposium

The Cleveland Leadership Center’s (CLC) annual symposium, Spark: Grit to Great leadership symposium, will recognize six change makers who are digging into Cleveland’s challenges, creating solutions, and turning ideas into action on Thursday, Sept. 3 from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.


This year’s Spark will be held virtually, due to COVID-19. “Whether in-person like the past few years, or virtually, Spark will challenge hundreds of people to explore innovation and disruption as ways to move the community forward,” says CLC president and CEO Marianne Crosley. “We are excited that through a virtual platform, Spark will generate innovative thinking, collaboration, and action that can impact individuals, organizations, and the greater community.”


Justin Massa, executive portfolio director of IDEO Chicago, will set the tone for the day and encourage participants to flip their thinking with his keynote, “Design Thinking 102: Research & Prototyping.”


During the keynote, participants will engage in design-thinking activities. IDEO is a global design company committed to creating positive impact through a human-centered, interdisciplinary approach.


The day will then move into six Spark labs (a choice of three labs in two one-hour sessions): Daring to Take a Chance; Innovating for Social Impact; and Building Innovative Teams in session one; while session two covers Discovering New Perspectives; Collaborating for Change; and Creating an Innovative Culture.


CLC collaborated with FreshWater and WKYC Channel 3 Studios to honor Fresh Innovators at Spark.


Nominations were accepted in April and CLC announced in July that six winners working on five projects had been chosen.


They are being recognized for making a difference locally through innovation, determination, and compassion, according to Michael Bennet, vice president of external affairs for the CLC.


“So many individuals in our community are accomplishing incredible things, but often under the radar,” he says. “The fact that more than 40 people were nominated for this award is testament to the exciting things going on. The projects our panel of leaders chose to recognize rose to the top, but we are grateful there are so many people in Northeast Ohio using their innovative and creative energy to create a better tomorrow.”

This year’s Fresh Innovators are:


Alysha Ellis and Jasmin Santana, co-founders of S.E.E.D.S (support, empower engage, develop, sustain), a women’s empowerment program offered by Freshly Rooted.


S.E.E.D.S. uses an innovative approach to community engagement aimed at creating a community of women equipped with the necessary leadership skills to make economic, healthy, and other meaningful changes that can sustain themselves, families, and communities. Ellis is Co-Founder and Strategic Planner of Freshly Rooted, and Santana is a Cleveland City Council member.


<span class="content-image-text">Archie Green</span>Archie GreenArchie Green is being recognized for his work with “My Violin Weighs A Ton,” which focuses on the mental health and suicide rate of students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

The initiative is an expansion of Peel Dem Layers Back, the organization he founded to break the stigma of mental health through hip-hop. Green is a hip-hop artist who was diagnosed with depression and created the organization to culturally educate, empower, and equip adolescents and young adults with essential tools necessary to live a mentally healthy life.

<span class="content-image-text">Cait Kennedy</span>Cait KennedyCait Kennedy is being recognized for her innovation with several projects: [unBail], a mobile app to help defendants navigate Cleveland’s legal system; a “Smart City Catalog Project” to help public service organizations collaborate better; and the “Filer Voter 2020” project to measure the effectiveness of offering voter registration to low and moderate-income households when filing taxes. She is a Ph.D. Candidate at Cleveland State University.

Michael Sering, vice president of housing and shelter, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, aims to end homelessness through a variety of housing options. His innovations include a shared housing model, a privately funded subsidy program, 3D printed housing, using hotels to protect the homeless during the pandemic, and more.

Doan Winkel, is the John J. Kahl, Sr. Chair in Entrepreneurship and is the director of the Edward Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship at John Carroll University. He oversees the Neighborhoods Project, which leverages resources of the John Carroll community to address poverty, inequality, and civic disengagement in specific Cleveland neighborhoods.

The initiatives engage youth to collaboratively develop solutions using a human-centered design thinking approach so they can experience ownership of the results.

Bennet says these five projects epitomize original and creative problem-solving to make a positive difference in Northeast Ohio. CLC launched its summer symposium on civic leadership and innovation as an in-person event in 2016. Innovation became even more central to this year’s annual symposium.

<span class="content-image-text">Doan Winkle</span>Doan Winkle“Innovation is always important to move beyond the status quo,” Bennett says. “This event helps people flip their thinking about new ways to move our community forward. Recognizing the Fresh Innovators showcases that it’s not only possible, but positive, to look at things in a new light, and act in new ways.”

A closing keynote will feature an interactive discussion on a collective path forward, facilitated by Peter Rea, vice president of integrity and ethics at Parker Hannifin Corporation, and James Stoller, executive director of the Cleveland Clinic’s physician leadership development and chairman of its Education Institute.


The event is sponsored by Marcum LLP. The honorees will be profiled in-depth in a future FreshWater issue and in October on WkYC’s “We the People,” which introduces the community to Northeast Ohio innovators.

Bennet says participants will have the opportunity to download a mobile app when they register, which can be used to attend the event virtually, but computers can also be used. However, he says the app will encourage participants to network and share ideas in advance of the event.


Tickets to Spark 2020 are $75 each, $25 for students. Participants can register here, or by calling (216) 592-2289.

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.