‘1,000 Ties’ project wins civic pitch competition

Technology, nonprofit pitches also recognized at Accelerate

Jim Malz, Citizens; winner Jowan Smith; Marianne Crosley, CLC. (Photos by Turben)


2020 Accelerate finalists and sponsors. (Photos by Turben)

CLEVELAND – A project to teach etiquette and other life skills to youth was voted the winning civic pitch by the audience Thursday night, February 27, at Accelerate: Citizens Make Change, an annual competition presented by the Cleveland Leadership Center with support from Citizens Bank.

Jowan Smith, of Cleveland, received $5,000 for her “1,000 Ties” pitch, an idea that grew from seeing her son turn to YouTube to learn how to tie a tie. She wants to help teach communications skills, hygiene, grooming, and proper dress to inner-city male and female youth.

Smith was a finalist in the event’s Community Change category presented in partnership with Oswald Companies and Westfield. In 2017, Smith had also been an Accelerate finalist for her pitch “Getting our Babies to College 101.” She eventually left her job and turned that pitch into a new career helping families prepare to successfully navigate post-high school options. (See www.gobtc101.com.)

More than 600 people attended the Leadership Center’s sixth annual competition in the Global Center for Health Innovation in downtown Cleveland. During a preliminary competition, 29 civic pitches were presented in six categories. Community leaders selected one presenter in each category as a finalist. The six finalists pitched in a final round, and the audience selected the winner by cell-phone voting.

For the first time, Accelerate included two other pitch contests:

  • Jasmine Bibb, of Parma, was named winner of the Technovation competition presented in partnership with the Cleveland Foundation. She was awarded $3,500 to pursue her “Yes, I’m Covered” online course that teaches people to understand and effectively utilize their health care plan and optimize their benefits. Technovation presenters had been chosen from among all individuals who submitted an idea to Accelerate that used technology.
  • D. Andrew Ferguson, President and CEO of PHASTAR Corporation, was named Social Venture PartnersbigBANG! Most Persuasive Pitch and received a $2,500 Audience Award. PHASTAR is a nonprofit that works to improve education and public services and break the cycle of poverty. It co-founded the Davis Aerospace and Maritime High School, a Cleveland Metropolitan School District high school. All four SVP presenters (PHASTAR, BigHearted Blooms, Kinnect, and Refresh Collective) received $1,000 for being a part of bigBANG!, which SVP launched in 2011 for nonprofit organizations to pitch ideas. “Accelerate inspires individuals who want to make change, and the addition of bigBANG! extended the impact of Accelerate to nonprofit organizations as well,” said CLC President and CEO Marianne Crosley.

“The energy and excitement at the event were inspiring for those who want to see Cleveland continue to grow and advance,” said Jim Malz, President of Citizens Bank, Ohio, which has been Accelerate’s Presenting Sponsor since 2016. “Like the presenters and all who attended tonight, Citizens Bank is made ready to make a difference in the community. We’re proud to partner with Cleveland Leadership Center to provide a platform for civic engagement.”

Smith’s 1,000 Ties winning pitch was in the Community Change category presented in partnership with Oswald Companies and Westfield.

The five runners-up each received $2,000, and made connections at the event to help bring their dreams to reality:

  • Shana Black, of Shaker Heights, wants to provide tours and experiences that showcase black-owned businesses, urban spaces, and Cleveland history that are overlooked. Her pitch, “A Soulful Tour of Cleveland,” in the Authentic Cleveland Experiences category, was presented in partnership with Destination Cleveland.
  • Jason C. Miller, of Barberton, wants to address the challenge of affordable housing, equal access to employment opportunities, and wealth accumulation by veterans and former inmates. His pitch, “CHI – Cleveland Humanity Investing,” was in the Economic & Workforce Development category presented in partnership with Oatey and The Lubrizol Corporation.
  • Sanjanasri Vedavyas, a sophomore at Solon High School, wants to create an app that will connect those who have no-longer-used test-preparation books, text books, calculators and other school supplies to those who need but can’t afford them. Her pitch, “Resource Reborn,” was in the Educating for Tomorrow category presented in partnership with Nordson.
  • Diane Mastnardo and her son, seventh-grader Jacque Mastnardo, of Avon Lake, want to offer a program that decreases symptoms of anxiety and stress through breathing, aromatherapy, acupressure, and movement. Their pitch, “Integrating You into Your Healthcare, BAAM!,” which they have tested in Lorain County schools, was in the Health & Wellness category presented in partnership with The MetroHealth System and Thompson Hine LLP.
  • Sixth-grader Logan Dior Williams and her mother, Denyelle Rashid, of Cleveland, wants to inspire children to provide blankets to the less fortunate. The idea was launched when Logan saw someone who was homeless and gave them a blanket and some snacks. Since then she has collected and delivered hundreds of blankets and gift bags. Their pitch, “Blanket Blessings,” was in the Quality of Life category presented in partnership with Cuyahoga Community College and MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network.

Each finalist received a free one-year membership to ECDI Cleveland, an organization that provides programs, services and loans to entrepreneurs; and a special gift from Southwest Airlines.

This year’s event saw the return of two past presenters who shared the successes of implementing their pitches:

  • Allison Meyer, a finalist at Accelerate 2019, returned with an installation of her project to gather inspiring stories that can help people through tough times. Her “Never, Ever Give Up” installation included letters people wrote of the hardest thing they’ve ever done, and some responses by people who were moved by their stories. Event attendees were able to submit their own stories in a 5-foot tall, bright yellow mailbox.
  • Tory Coats won the competition in 2018 with a vision to create Teen Enterprise Pop-Up shops to prepare tomorrow’s business leaders by offering them mentoring and a place to sell products they create. He returned to Accelerate this year with teen entrepreneurs who sold beauty products, clothing and jewelry. The Burton D. Morgan Foundation sponsored the pop-up shop at Accelerate this year and in 2019.

Other past presenters and winners were at the event to showcase progress in implementing their projects. The Past Presenters Row was sponsored by Jackson Lewis P.C. and included individuals whose ideas have taken shape and are impacting life across Cleveland.

Emcees for the event were Terry Moir, director of integrative marketing and local programming at WKYC; and Mike McIntyre, a Plain Dealer columnist and host of The Sound of Ideas on 90.3 WCPN, ideastream.

Presenters, sponsors, and community leadership will gather again in March at a special reception sponsored by JumpStart Inc. to help provide further momentum to launch their projects.

Updates on the pitches will be posted on www.cleveleads.org, and on Facebook and Twitter (@cleveleads) using #accelerateNEO.

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About the Cleveland Leadership Center: The Cleveland Leadership Center’s mission is to build a continuum of civic leaders committed to our community’s excellence by serving as a catalyst for civic engagement. The Leadership Center inspires and connects people to transform Cleveland by developing leaders of all age through learning and community engagement opportunities. www.cleveleads.org

About Citizens Financial Group, Inc.: Citizens Financial Group, Inc. is one of the nation’s oldest and largest financial institutions, with $165.7 billion in assets as of December 31, 2019. Headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, Citizens offers a broad range of retail and commercial banking products and services to individuals, small businesses, middle-market companies, large corporations and institutions. Citizens helps its customers reach their potential by listening to them and by understanding their needs in order to offer tailored advice, ideas and solutions. In Consumer Banking, Citizens provides an integrated experience that includes mobile and online banking, a 24/7 customer contact center and the convenience of approximately 2,700 ATMs and approximately 1,100 branches in 11 states in the New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions. Consumer Banking products and services include a full range of banking, lending, savings, wealth management and small business offerings. In Commercial Banking, Citizens offers corporate, institutional and not-for-profit clients a full range of wholesale banking products and services, including lending and deposits, capital markets, treasury services, foreign exchange and interest rate products, and asset finance. More information is available at www.citizensbank.com or visit us on TwitterLinkedIn or Facebook.

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