Each fall, Clevelanders can submit innovative ideas in one of six categories at Accelerate, the Cleveland Leadership Center’s annual pitch competition. Finalists are then chosen to pitch in front of a panel of judges at the Accelerate event in February, presented in partnership with Citizens.
At the event, a winner is chosen to receive $5,000 to fund their initiative; the remaining finalists receive $2,000 each.
Accelerate is about much more than the prize money, however.
Past presenters and other participants have been surprised to find out how extensive and beneficial the entire process of Accelerate is from application to the event and long after. Finalists receive a tremendous amount of support, professional development, and additional networking opportunities.
Preparing to Pitch: Training Sessions
Leading up to Accelerate, presenters are given the opportunity to take part in three separate training sessions to help them prepare to pitch in front of an audience:
- The first training session covers the basics of creating a prize-worthy presentation.
- The next is a practice pitch session where the presenters will receive feedback from local leaders and entrepreneurship students to refine their pitch.
- The last training session is a “how-to” on being a dynamic presenter.
Shining a Light: Promoting Ideas
Once selected, presenters are promoted across social media, the Cleveland Leadership Center blog, and various local media outlets. The goal is to not only build awareness and excitement for the February event, but also for the presenters’ ideas.
Something as simple as a LinkedIn post or as involved as a television interview can connect the presenter to potential supporters and important contacts across Northeast Ohio and beyond.
The Big Event: Connections, Collaboration & Support
Besides competing for the coveted $5,000 prize, Accelerate gives presenters the opportunity to have their ideas heard by hundreds of local leaders, which can then lead to connections, resources, and other funding — regardless of the outcome.
There are seemingly unlimited chances to network with other idea leaders and influencers at the event which can lead to alternative and/or additional sources of collaboration and support.
- Eli Auerbach (2021 presenter) and Diane Mastnardo (2020 finalist) both made a connection to Urban Community School to develop youth programming opportunities.
- Karson Baldwin (2019 winner) spoke at a Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) Board meeting, at a University School Board meeting and at 2020 Leadership Cleveland Day. He was also offered a paid summer internship at Global Cleveland, made connections with Laurel School and Beaumont School for the Oné Respé program, and received additional funding from grants and private donors.
- Jowan Smith (2017 finalist and 2020 winner) connected with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Notre Dame College, and Lorain County Community College to help build two programs, Getting Our Babies to College 101 and 1,000 Ties.
Get Started: Apply to Pitch
Above are just a few past presenters who took advantage of the many opportunities that Accelerate offers. Why not add your name to the list?
If you have an innovative idea for Cleveland, submit your application to pitch today. What happens next could make your idea a reality in more ways than one.