2015 Accelerate presenters: Updates and impact

 The 25 civic pitches presented at the inaugural Accelerate on February 25, 2015, each offered a unique vision to improve Cleveland. The event, also held in the Global Center for Health Innovation, followed the same format as Accelerate 2016: Panels of top community leaders selected one presenter in each category for a finals round, the audience voted on one finalist as an overall winner, and all finalists received funding to implement their ideas.

Many of the other presenters made important connections and received exposure that also has helped bring their visions to reality.

Below are highlights of what some of the presenters have accomplished since Accelerate 2015, which was presented by Cleveland Leadership Center and Bernie Moreno Companies. Connect with them as well as the 2016 presenters so you can continue to help accelerate Cleveland.


Overall winner


Accelerate 2015 WinnerMatthew Fieldman
Cleveland Codes - Bringing Software Development to Low-Income Populations
(Economic Development)


The audience voted Matthew Fieldman overall winner for his pitch in the Economic Development Category: Cleveland Codes − Bringing Software Development to Low-Income Populations. Media coverage of Accelerate brought his idea to the attention of Cuyahoga Community College, which worked with Matt to jointly launch Cleveland Codes: The Tri-C Software Developers Academy in early 2016. Classes began in March 2016 for the 24-week immersive program to provide students with skills to pursue a career in web development. Over 120 low-income adults throughout Northeast Ohio applied; 15 students were accepted (40% minority, 40% women). Many were unemployed; others were underemployed as cooks, security guards, or clerks. The first class of 14 students graduated in June 2016, with 12 students moving directly into paid internships ($15 per hour) at companies throughout Northeast Ohio. Students attend for free, and are provided with a laptop, daily lunch, bus pass, and a mentor/coach to help them succeed. For their capstone projects, the students broke into four teams and created an online app that is already being used to fight infant mortality in Cleveland.

One student talk about the program's impact on him in this video. Already, numerous students have been offered full-time positions at their employers.

The second cohort of Cleveland Codes, which received 115 applications, graduated in January 2017. Already, companies are lining up to hire this diverse group of graduates. Cleveland Codes is rapidly changing the economy of Cleveland: bringing more diversity into high-tech companies, improving neighborhoods through bringing these high-paying jobs, and challenging the for-profit coding schools to increase their accessibility and affordability.
Watch his finalist pitch


Other finalists


Accelerate 2015 FinalistShanina Knighton
Clean Hands Means Quality of Life (Quality of Life)

Funding from Accelerate was used to secure supplemental patents and Shanina continues to seek partners to support her project. She also received a Mather Prize from Case Western Reserve University in October 2015 recognizing her professional and academic achievement.
Watch her finalist pitch.

Accelerate 2015 FinalistBob Sferra
LGBT Youth Culinary Creation (Community Change)

Bob’s vision to launch a culinary kitchen to build esteem among LGBT youth got a boost when the LGBT Center of Cleveland received a $1.8 million anonymous donation to build a new community center. The building will include a state-of-the-art kitchen that can house his project. The center also received a $500,000 endowment match challenge from the Maltz Family Foundation, and Bob is chairing the capital campaign to raise the balance of $300,000  by the end of 2016.
Watch his finalist pitch.

Accelerate 2015 FinalistMollie Verdier
Therapals: Pay it Forward Approach to Learning (Educating for Tomorrow)

After her finalist pitch at Accelerate, Mollie became one of six finalists selected from among 4,000 applicants to pitch at the Miller Lite Tap the Future business competition in Detroit on July 9, 2015, hosted by Daymond John of ABC's “Shark Tank.” Mollie also was featured in CBC Magazine’s November 2015 issue for the difference TheraPals is making for children with special needs.
Watch her finalist pitch.

Accelerate 2015 FinalistChris Webb
If These Walls Could Talk (Transformative Arts and Culture)

Accelerate support enabled Chris to begin production with artists to make three abandoned homes come to life as animated narrators in a film about the potential of challenged communities to thrive. He presented the project at the Cleveland Institute of Art's F1RST Conference in spring 2015, and at TedxClevelandStateUniversity. He was awarded a grant as a 2016 Creative Workforce Fellow through the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, and is preparing to premiere the movie in Summer 2017. You can see the trailer now, and coverage of the event from Channel 5. More at
Watch his finalist pitch.

Other presenters

Laura L. Balliett
The Cool School Rap Comic: STEM Curriculum in Comic Form (Educating for Tomorrow)

Laura continues to develop The Cool School Rap comic series. As the new STEM teacher at a charter school for at-risk youth in Lakewood, she is writing STEM curriculum in comic form and making it available to other teachers. She is adding new comics weekly and gauging their effectiveness.

Daniel Brown
Rust Belt Riders: Pedal-Powered Composting (Community Change)

Rust Belt Riders decided to forgo bicycles and use a cargo van to move 10 times more waste per day and also reach any location in Northeast Ohio with ease. Since presenting at Accelerate, it has added over a dozen clients and one new full-time staff person. To date, Rust Belt Riders has helped to divert over 250,000 pounds of food waste.


Lee Chilcote and Amy Rosenbluth
A Celebration of Words: A Literary Unconference in the City (Transformative Arts and Culture)

The literary unconference came to life as The Cleveland INKubator event on Saturday, August 1, 2015, at the Cleveland Public Library downtown. It featured workshops, readings, performances, a writer's resource fair and open mic session. Later in the year, Lee partnered with a group of individuals to launch Literary Cleveland (“Lit Cleveland”), which has created a series of classes, workshops, readings and other events to create a strong community of writers and readers in NEO. In 2016, Literary Cleveland held more than 50 workshops, readings, talks and networking events, and 225 hours of programming that attracted more than 1,600 participants. It joined with 2016 Accelerate finalist Good Cause Blog to host a sold-out storytelling workshop in October 2016, with more planned.


Michael DeAloia
Big Data in the CLE (Economic Development)

Michael pitched to shape the big-data industry in Northeast Ohio and plan for growth. As a way to focus the community on technology issues, he later launched TechniCLE Speaking hosted by Jones Day, a summit designed to break down barriers between NEO tech, capital and local government.

Murat Gurer
The Turkish Art of Marbling (Transformative Arts and Culture)

As a result of the pitch, the Dolan Center for Science and Technology at John Carroll University hosted a demonstration of the Turkish art form Ebru on March 25, 2015, during its annual Week of Islamic Art and Culture. Murat also held a workshop at the Turkish Cultural Center on October 2015, and an Ebru artist will give a presentation and workshop to a youth group at Beth Israel – The West Temple on February 28.

Alex P. Michaels and Peter Lawson Jones
Bring Crime 2 Cleaveland (Transformative Arts and Culture)

After making a pitch for a crime web/TV series, Alex established himself as the Shaker Heights Film Czar. His company, Prelude2Cinema, received private investments and support from the Shaker LaunchHouse, where it opened a “Cinema Industry” office to cultivate talent and produce and distribute movies online. He began a series through Facebook of monthly film festivals and a membership group known as the Crusade to fund his crime series pitch, which is now a feature film series; an action thriller from a Los Angeles film company that is moving to Ohio; and a feature by Shaker Heights students. The next Crusade for a Cinema Industry is February 29-March 1, 2016.


Steve Roberts
Ohio City Clean Up and Green Up Day (Quality of Life)

Steve saw his vision for an Ohio City Clean Up Day become reality on May 9, 2015, when 40+ enthusiastic volunteers cleaned up the area and filled a 40-yard dumpster to the rim. He is planning for the event to occur again in 2016.

 Make a 2016 pitch