Full speed ahead: Accelerate 2018 helping CLE changemakers go next-level with their ideas

More than 500 Clevelanders gathered for the fourth annual Accelerate event at downtown’s Global Center for Health Innovation—or what event co-chair Ursula Cottone calls a “civic ‘Shark Tank.’”

Sponsored by Citizens Bank and orchestrated by Cleveland Leadership Center, the buzzy civic pitch competition featured 25 semi-finalists presenting bright ideas on how to accelerate Cleveland’s momentum. With five categories (Health & Wellness, Economic & Workforce Development, Community Change, Quality of Life, and Educating for Tomorrow), pitches ranged from transforming storage pods into safe shelters to using vacant spaces in Slavic Village for gardens and creative spaces.

Teen Enterprise
founder Tory Coats took home top prize—and $5,000 in seed funding—for his Teen Entrepreneur Pop-Up Shops. Coats first piloted the event in East Cleveland with four young entrepreneurs last November, and he plans to use the prize money to market and promote the four events planned for this year.

“The participants in Accelerate have a dream to do something good in the community, and this helps us bring our ideas to fruition,” says Coats. “[Accelerate] gives all of our programs great exposure and connects us to resources to which we otherwise wouldn’t have access.”

Few people know that better than Allison Lukacsy-Love, a two-time event participant. In 2016, Lukacsy-Love won the Quality of Life category with her Bus Stop Moves concept, and this year, she made it to semi-finalist status with Give Box CLE—a “Little Free Library”-style project that makes non-perishable food and personal care products available to those in need.

“Prior to [Accelerate], I had just three Bus Stop Moves prototypes in my home neighborhood of North Collinwood,” says Lukacsy-Love. “Two years later, there are nearly three dozen locations in Cleveland with inquiries from across the U.S. I’ve been fortunate to speak about the project at national conferences and demonstrate this innovative project rooted in Cleveland, but also connect the dots between small non-profits in Cleveland focused on healthy living, fitness instructors, and transit riders.”

Like Lukacsy-Love, many Accelerate semi-finalists and finalists go on to realize their ideas even if they don’t win the competition. For instance, Pam Zander Turos (who presented in 2016) has a thriving blog in WISH Cleveland, and Jowan Smith (who presented in 2017) of Getting Our Babies to College 101 just graduated from JumpStart's Core City: Cleveland Impact program. 

Even this year's participants are already getting play—Cottone says she just taped an episode of “Golden Opportunities” with Tonya Porras, who presented her idea for Gloria’s Way Memory Care last week at Accelerate.

“The beauty is it’s not just the participants who are winners that move their ideas forward,” says Cottone, Chief Data Officer at Citizens Bank. “We describe everyone as a winner because everyone gets something out of this—whether it’s network connections or the opportunity to move their idea forward with other people’s help.”

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.