How it works

Applicants are selected to pitch in one of six categories and a panel of judges drawn from community leaders select one finalist in each category. The six finalists pitch again to the full audience, which votes on the winner. The winner receives $5,000 and the remaining five finalists each receive $2,000 to help bring their ideas to life.

Five presenters pitch as part of the Technovation competition for the $3,500 prize.

Small Organization Solutions (SOS) provided strategy and design awards to presenters. SOS selected six presenters across the categories to receive a customized ‘Services Package’ valued at $1,000,  and one grand prize winner received a customized Services Package valued at $4,000.

See the winners + their pitches >

Click on the tabs below to learn more about the event.

Thursday, February 25, 2021
Accelerate 2021 was a virtual experience.

Pitch Competitions
The category pitch competition and Technovation sessions featured pre-recorded pitches each followed by a live presenter Q&A with the judges. Winners were announced at the end of each evening.

Event Timeline

  • Monday, February 22, 2021
    • 4:00-5:00 p.m. Authentic Cleveland Experiences
    • 5:00-6:30 p.m. Virtual networking
    • 5:30-6:30 p.m. Education
    • 6:30-7:00 p.m. Virtual networking
  • Tuesday, February 23, 2021
    • 4:00-5:00 p.m. Economic Development
    • 5:00-6:30 p.m. Virtual networking
    • 5:30-6:30 p.m. Health & Well-being
    • 6:30-7:00 p.m. Virtual networking
  • Wednesday, February 24, 2021
    • 4:00-5:00 p.m. Social Change
    • 5:00-6:30 p.m. Virtual networking
    • 5:30-6:30 p.m. Quality of Life
    • 6:30-7:00 p.m. Virtual networking
  • Thursday, February 25, 2021
    • 4:00-5:00 p.m. Technovation
    • 5:00-5:30 p.m. Virtual networking
    • 5:30-6:00 p.m. Teen Entrepreneur Showcase
    • 6:00-6:30 p.m. Virtual networking
    • 6:30-7:30 p.m. Finalist competition

See the 2021 presenters and watch their pitches >

Virtual networking took place Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 5:00-5:30 p.m. and 6:30-7:00 p.m.

The Finalist pitches were live streamed with virtual audience voting for the winner the evening of February 25.

Accelerate 2021 tickets were available on a Pay What You Can basis. In 2020, tickets were $35 per person.

Click on the tabs above to learn more about the event.

Anyone with an idea to improve the Greater Cleveland community can apply. Proposed ideas cannot be affiliated with an established organization or business.

Application & Selection
Applicants submit proposals to pitch their idea at the event via an online form, through which you’ll address each of the following areas in 250 words or less.

  • A description of the initiative.
  • The community issue it addresses.
  • How it will benefit the community.
  • Why you are passionate about the issue.
  • How you will know if the initiative is successful.
  • How the prize money would help you achieve your goals.

An independent panel of reviewers selects 30 proposals (five from each category) to be presented at the event based on:

  • Potential for community impact and advancing NE Ohio.
  • How unique, creative and innovative the initiative is.
  • A realistic implementation plan that would be aided by the prize money.

Those selected have up to five minutes to pitch at the event.

Applications for Accelerate 2022 will open on November 1, 2021.

Authentic Cleveland Experiences
In partnership with Destination Cleveland and KJK
Creating an immersive and one-of-a-kind experience that (re)connects residents and visitors with Cleveland’s diverse population, resilient spirit, and destination assets.
Category pitch competition will take place on Monday, February 22, 2021, 4:00-5:00 p.m.

Economic Development
In partnership with The Lubrizol Corporation and MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network
Stimulating the economy, growing employment, and building financial literacy.
Category pitch competition will take place on Tuesday, February 23, 2021, 4:00-5:00 p.m.

In partnership with Nordson
Advancing access, readiness, and success for pre-k through college students.
Category pitch competition will take place on Monday, February 22, 2021, 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Health & Well-being
In partnership with Oatey and Thompson Hine LLP
Promoting the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals and their communities.
Category pitch competition will take place on Tuesday, February 23, 2021, 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Quality of Life
In partnership with The MetroHealth System
Improving lives through art, culture, the environment, and community improvement projects.
Category pitch competition will take place on Wednesday, February 24, 2021, 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Social Change
In partnership with The MetroHealth System
Addressing complex social challenges by promoting equity, access, and opportunity.
Category pitch competition will take place on Wednesday, February 24, 2021, 4:00-5:00 p.m.

See the presenters and their ideas >

In partnership with the Cleveland Foundation

The Cleveland Foundation is awarding $3,500 to the top innovative technology idea at Accelerate.

All pitches that opt in to the Technovation competition will be reviewed by a selection committee assembled by the Cleveland Foundation and five presenters will be selected. The same three selection criteria will be used for both Technovation and the Accelerate category competition (see Application Process tab for criteria).

Since the selection committees for Technovation and Accelerate are separate, the five presenters selected for Technovation may or may not be selected to present in their identified Accelerate category.

The Technovation competition will take place on Thursday, February 25, 2021, 4:00-5:00 p.m.

See the presenters and watch their pitches >

In partnership with Jackson Lewis P.C.

Catch up with past Accelerate participants and hear how their ideas are coming to life and creating positive change.

In partnership with Burton D. Morgan Foundation

In 2018, Tory Coats won Accelerate with his pitch for Dare2Believe Pop-Up Shops – a way to teach high school students business skills by doing business. His young entrepreneurs showcased and sold their wares at Accelerate 2019 and 2020, and joined for a virtual interview in 2021.


Presenting partner

Lead category partner
The MetroHealth System

Category partners
Destination Cleveland, KJK, The Lubrizol Corporation, MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Nordson, Oatey Co., Oswald Companies, Thompson Hine LLP, and Westfield

Technovation competition host
Cleveland Foundation

Dare2Believe Pop-Up Shops sponsor
Burton D. Morgan Foundation

Past Presenter Showcase sponsor
Jackson Lewis P.C.

Other supporters
ECDI, Graham + Fisk’s Wine-In-A-Can, Great Lakes Brewing Company, Small Organization Solutions, Weiss Movers and Storage, Zinner & Co. 

  • 2021 Host Committee


    The Host Committee helps make Accelerate possible.

    A $350 Host donation included access to virtual Accelerate pre- and post-events, and a swag bag to enjoy along with the virtual competition. Donations at $500 and $1,000 received additional virtual admissions, as well as provided additional financial support to make the event possible.


    • Jim Malz (LC 2005), President, Citizens, Ohio
    • Rick Fedorovich (CLI 2020, LC 2015), CEO & Managing Partner, Bober Markey Fedorovich + Chair, CLC Board of Trustees


    • Charles Aquino (LC 2016), Western Reserve Partners, a Division of Citizens Capital Markets Inc.
    • Mitchell Balk (LC 2001), Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation
    • John Beer (LC2 2019, LC 2018, CLC Board), PNC Bank
    • Cathy Belk (LC 2012, CLC Board), Deaconess Foundation
    • Kip Bollin (LC 2020, CLC Board), Thompson Hine LLP
    • John Bonfiglio (LC 2015, CBB 2003), BSB Partners
    • Akram Boutros (LC 2015), The MetroHealth System
    • William Caster (LC 2010, CLC Board), Fifth Third Private Bank
    • Fiona Chambers (LC2 2014, LC 2013, CLC Board), Deloitte
    • Joe Compton (LC2 2015, LC 2014), Marcum LLP
    • Anita Cook (LC2 2015, LC 2014)
    • Rollie DeMonte, Jackson Lewis P.C. (CBB 2012, CLI 2010)
    • Todd Federman (LC2 2016, LC 2015), North Coast Angel Fund
    • Matthew Fieldman (CBB 2012), MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network
    • David Gilbert (LC 2001), Greater Cleveland Sports Commission & Destination Cleveland
    • Elizabeth Grove (LC 2021), Lubrizol
    • Patrick Hackett (OBC 2019, CLC Leadership Council), JumpStart, Inc.
    • Michael Jeans (LC 2016), Growth Opportunity Partners
    • Dale Kaprosy, Oswald Companies
    • Ira Kaplan (LC 2003), Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP
    • Ethan Karp (LC2 2018, LC 2017, CLC Board), MAGNET The Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network
    • Kelly Keefe (LC 2020, CLI 2012), ERC
    • Robert Klonk (LC2 2017, LC 2016, CLC Board), Oswald Companies
    • Susan Krantz (CLI 2011), Zinner & Co. LLP
    • Edward Largent III (LC 2010), Westfield
    • Wayne Lawrence, Weiss Movers and Storage
    • Kara Lewis (LC 2020, CBB 2011), AB Bernstein
    • Brittany O’Connor (CBB 2003), Citizens
    • Larry Oscar (LC 2009), Hahn Loeser & Parks LLC
    • Shelly Peet (LC2 2013, LC 2009, CLC Board), Nordson
    • Jon Pinney (LC2 2019, LC 2018), KJK
    • Cecilia Render, Nordson Corporation Foundation
    • Neal Restivo (LC 2017, CLC Board), Oatey Co.
    • Kim Riley (LC 2017), Hylant Group
    • Jim Rollins (LC 2020), Meaden & Moore Ltd.
    • Stuart Rosenberg (LC2 2014, LC 2013, CLC Board), Westfield
    • Mark Ross (LC 2016), PwC (retired)
    • Marc Sanchez (LC 2013, CLC Board), Frantz Ward LLP
    • Gary Shamis, Winding River Consulting
    • Drew Stelzer (CBB 2021, OBC 2019 CLC Leadership Council), Schauer Group
    • Heather Stoll (CLI 2020, LC 2017), Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland
    • Mark Sutherland (CLI 2020, LC 2016, CLC Board)
    • Eddie Taylor Jr. (LC 2000), Taylor Oswald, LLC
    • Tod Wagner (LC 2017), Bober Markey Fedorovich
    • Leon Wilson (CLI 2016), Cleveland Foundation


    List current as of 2/17/2021

  • Accelerate in the news

    Check out the following media links to learn more about the presenters and their projects:

    • Sam Paredes and his Hackers Towards Perception was featured in a Tri-C blog post. Read the post >
    • Lisa Rose-Rodriguez joined WKYC’s We The People to discuss Planting Stems of Peace. See the spot >
    • Michelle Park shared Project Delight on WKYC’s We The People. See the spot >
    • The Cleveland Jewish News highlighted Accelerate and the 2021 winners. Read the article >
    • Sara Kidner, Jing Lauengco, and Lisa Rose-Rodriguez on the Sound of Ideas (segment begins @14:50). Hear the interview >
    • FreshWater Cleveland interviewed Sara Kidner and highlighted the other Finalists. See the article >
    • WKYC chatted with Sara Kidner about her Accelerate-winning pitch. Watch the spot >


  • Watch the 2020 finalist pitches >
      • Shana Black (16:28)
      • Jowan Smith (22:48)
      • Jason C. Miller (28:50)
      • Sanjanasri Vedavyas (35:05)
      • Diane Mastnardo & Jacque Mastnardo (41:45)
      • Logan Dior Williams & Denyelle E. Rashid (48:46)