32 civic pitches at Accelerate could transform Cleveland

Teen Accelerate to join competition for first time

CLEVELAND – Thirty-two creative ideas to improve lives across Greater Cleveland will be pitched at Accelerate: Citizens Make Change on February 23, 2023.

The ninth annual civic pitch competition, presented by the Cleveland Leadership Center in partnership with Citizens, takes place in the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland.

“At Citizens, we help our customers, colleagues and communities reach their potential because when we do, families are stronger, businesses grow, communities prosper and economies thrive,” said Jim Malz, President of Citizens, Ohio and Accelerate Co-Chair. “We are proud to support Accelerate because it provides a platform for individual citizens to share ideas to help our community reach its potential.”

The event is open to the public. Tickets – $35 general registration and $25 students – can be purchased at www.cleveleads.org/Accelerate. Face masks and hand sanitizer will be offered in CLEan COMMITTED packets provided by Destination Cleveland.

The 37 individuals pitching the initiatives range in age from 12 to 72 and come from across northeast Ohio. Their unique social enterprise ideas address a wide array of issues: equity, nutrition, literacy, financial literacy, democracy, mental health, sustainability, career paths, and more. Pitch details are at www.cleveleads.org/2023presenters.

How it works

The competition begins at 4:30 p.m. with pitches in three categories: Education, Quality of Life, and Technovation. At 5:45, the remaining category pitches take place: Cleveland Experiences & Excursions, Economic Prosperity, Health & Well-being, and Social Change.

Panels of judges drawn from community leaders with subject expertise will select one finalist in each category. For example, education category judges include Dr. Laura Bloomberg, President of Cleveland State University; and Eric Gordon, CEO of Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

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. The prize package for all finalists includes a one-year membership in ECDI, which offers support, resources, and connections to entrepreneurs; and the opportunity to participate in the 2023 NEO SEA Change Cohort for social entrepreneurs.

Accelerate helps position all presenters for success, whether they reach the finals or not. The event exposes them and their initiatives to a wide audience of people who care about the community and can help bring the ideas to life. Accelerate attendees – there were more than 700 pre-COVID – may be able to offer connections and other resources. CLC also introduces all presenters to ioby, a grassroots crowdfunding platform, to seek funding.

Teen Accelerate and partners

A new addition to Accelerate will take place concurrent to the category pitch competitions beginning at 4:30 p.m. Teen Accelerate: Student Citizens Make Change, in partnership with the Young Entrepreneur Institute of University School, is an opportunity for any high school student to offer a pitch that would make a difference in their community. Applications are due by January 19, 2023. Ten finalists will be selected to pitch at Accelerate. The top winner receives $1,000, the runner-up earns $500, and all other students who pitch in Teen Accelerate will win $250.

A Technovation competition sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation joins Accelerate for the fourth year, featuring five pitches that leverage technology to address a community challenge. A panel of judges will select the Technovation winner, who will receive $3,500. 

Accelerate is offered in partnership with several other sponsors: Boler College of Business at John Carroll University, Centric Consulting, Destination Cleveland, Growth Opps, KJK, Lubrizol, MAGNET: The Manufacturing and Advocacy Growth Network, Nordson, Oatey Co., Oswald Companies, Thompson Hine LLP, and Westfield. More than 45 individuals have joined the Accelerate Host Committee to provide ideas, connections, and additional financial support to ensure the event’s success and impact.

The Burton D. Morgan Foundation is sponsoring a Teen Enterprise Pop-Up shop for the fifth year. The shop is drawn from Tory Coats’ winning pitch at Accelerate 2018 to support young entrepreneurs. Several teens will be on hand with products they have produced.

In addition, presenters from prior years will return to Accelerate to showcase the result and impact of their pitches.

Cleveland Leadership Center launched Accelerate in 2015 as its signature annual event to promote social innovation and support the Center. Presenters have represented a broad diversity of age, race, gender identity, and background. Accelerate has been a catalyst for ideas that impact everyone from pre-kindergarteners to senior citizens. Dozens of projects have become reality in the months and years after being presented. Updates on past pitches are at www.cleveleads.org/AccelerateUpdates.


Accelerate 2023 by the numbers

  • 32 creative ideas
  • 37 presenters
  • 42% women / 58% men
  • 68% people of color / 26% white (5% no response)
  • 18% identify as LGBTQ+
  • Age range 12-72 (28% are 29 or younger; 11% are 60 or over)

Event details        

  • What: Accelerate: Citizens Make Change, presented by Cleveland Leadership Center and Citizens
  • When: Thursday, February 23, 2023
    • 4:30 p.m.: Category pitch competitions and Teen Accelerate begin
    • 6:00 p.m.: Networking reception
    • 7:15 p.m.: Finalist competition and audience vote
      Ticket enables you to attend any or all portions of the event.\
  • Where: Huntington Convention Center, 300 Lakeside Ave. E, Cleveland (enter only through Lakeside doors; no entry through Global Center for Health Innovation)
  • Cost: $35 general registration, $25 students, $50-$100 Patrons
  • Information and tickets: cleveleads.org/Accelerate. Direct questions to Maeve Frey at (216) 592-2243 or mdoley@cleveleads.org
  • \Twitter: #AccelerateNEO, @CitizensBank, @cleveleads
  • Facebook: @CitizensBank, @cleveleads


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