26 civic pitches at Accelerate could transform region

Cleveland Mayor Justin M. Bibb to serve as Honorary Chair for event

CLEVELAND – Twenty-six creative ideas to improve lives across Greater Cleveland will be launched at the Accelerate: Citizens Make Change 10th anniversary civic pitch competition on February 22, 2024.

Cleveland Mayor Justin M. Bibb will serve as the Honorary Chair of this year’s Accelerate competition, which is presented by the Cleveland Leadership Center in partnership with Citizens.

“As an alum of a Cleveland Leadership Center program, I know first-hand how CLC is helping improve our community,” Mayor Bibb said. “I’m excited to help usher this event into another decade of impact.”

The 32 individuals pitching the initiatives range in age from 21 to 66 and come from across northeast Ohio. Their unique social enterprise ideas address a wide array of issues, such as STEM training, mentorship, mental health, workforce development, healthy eating, and housing. Pitch details are at www.cleveleads.org/2024presenters.

“Citizens is committed to fostering strong communities and helping position those we serve for the best possible tomorrow,” said Jim Malz, President of Citizens, Ohio and Accelerate Co-Chair. “We are proud to continue our support for the Cleveland Leadership Center’s Accelerate event and look forward to this year’s ideas and the lasting impact they will have on helping our communities thrive.”

Since 2015, a diverse cross-section of community members has presented more than 240 pitches at Accelerate in front of more than 4,000 attendees. Dozens of those pitches have resulted in sustained initiatives that address diversity, the arts, education, and other areas.

The event, in the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, is from 4:30-8:30 p.m. Tickets, starting at $25 for students, include admission to any or all segments of the event, including the 6:00 p.m. reception and 7:00 final competition. Details and registration are at www.cleveleads.org/Accelerate.

How it works

The competition begins at 4:30 p.m. with the first round of pitches grouped by category, followed by additional category pitches beginning at 5:45 p.m. Categories are Arts & Culture, Education, Health & Well-being, Social Change, and Thriving Neighborhoods. Panels of judges drawn from community leaders with subject expertise will select one finalist in each category.

After a networking reception beginning at 6:00 p.m., finalists will pitch to the full event audience, which will vote on the winner. Category finalists each receive $2,000 and the overall winner receives $5,000. All finalists will receive a free, one-year membership in ECDI, the Economic & Community Development Institute that invests time and resources to support entrepreneurs.

Accelerate includes two additional competitions:

  • Technovation, sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation, joins Accelerate for the fifth year, featuring five pitches that leverage technology to address a community challenge. A panel of judges will select the Technovation winner, who receives $3,500. Several Technovation presenters will also pitch in the other categories.
  • Teen Accelerate: Student Citizens Make Change returns for a second year in partnership with Young Entrepreneur Institute. High school students can apply to pitch until January 18, 2024. Ten finalists will be selected to pitch on February 22. The top winner receives $1,000, the runner-up earns $500, and all other finalists that present live at Teen Accelerate will win $250.

In addition, several teens will be on hand with products they have created as part of a Teen Enterprise Pop-Up shop. The shop was created from a winning pitch at Accelerate 2018 to support young entrepreneurs, and teen entrepreneurs have been featured at Accelerate every year since.

Accelerate helps position all presenters for success, whether they reach the finals or not, said CLC President & CEO Marianne Crosley. “The event exposes them and their initiatives to a wide audience of people who care about the community,” she said. “The business and community leaders who attend Accelerate often make connections with the presenters that help bring their ideas to life.”

CLC also introduces all presenters to ioby, a grassroots crowdfunding platform, to seek funding and to the SEA Change NEO social enterprise training program which hosts a pitch competition that has included many past Accelerate presenters.

Accelerate presenters from prior years will return to Accelerate to showcase the result and impact of their pitches over the decade.

Accelerate partners

Tenth anniversary sponsors of Accelerate, in addition to Citizens, are Centric Consulting, Cleveland Foundation, Growth Opps, KJK, Lubrizol, MAGNET: The Manufacturing and Advocacy Growth Network, Burton D. Morgan Foundation, The NRP Group LLC, Nordson, Oswald Companies, PwC, Thompson Hine LLP, Young Entrepreneur Institute, and Westfield.

In-kind donors and other Accelerate partners include Michael Barakiva of Cleveland Play House, ECDI, ioby, Notre Dame College, Andrea Peck of Andrea Peck Communications, SEA Change Ohio, and Zinner & Co. LLP.

Community leaders who join the Accelerate Host Committee provide ideas, connections, and additional financial support to ensure the event’s success and impact.

Cleveland Leadership Center launched Accelerate in 2015 as its signature annual event to promote social innovation and support the non-profit Leadership Center as its primary annual fundraising event. Presenters have represented a broad diversity of age, race, gender identity, and background.

Accelerate has been a catalyst for ideas that have become reality and continue to impact everyone from pre-kindergarteners to senior citizens. (See “Accelerate: A Decade of Impact” at this link.)


 Accelerate 2024 by the numbers

  • 26 creative ideas
  • 32 presenters
  • 66% women / 31% men / 3% non-binary
  • 68% people of color / 26% white (6% no response)
  • 10% identify as LGBTQ+
  • Age range 21-66

Event details       

  • What: Accelerate: Citizens Make Change, presented by Cleveland Leadership Center and Citizens
  • When: Thursday, February 22, 2024
    • 4:30 p.m.: Category pitch competitions and Teen Accelerate begin
    • 6:00 p.m.: Networking reception
    • 7:00 p.m.: Finalist competition and audience vote
      Ticket enables you to attend any or all portions of the event.
  • Where: Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, 300 Lakeside Ave. E, Cleveland (enter only through Lakeside doors; no entry through Global Center for Health Innovation)
  • Cost: $40 general registration, $25 students, $75 Supporters, $125 Patrons. Reserved tables of 8 are $350; reserved tables of 10 are $425.
  • Information and tickets: cleveleads.org/Accelerate. Direct questions to Courtney Scullen at (216) 592-2243 or cscullen@cleveleads.org
  • X: #AccelerateNEO, @CitizensBank, @cleveleads
  • Facebook: @CitizensBank, @cleveleads

Media contact
Michael E. Bennett, VP of External Affairs, C: (216) 408-3874, mbennett@cleveleads.org