Last Accelerate finalists selected

6 social entrepreneurs to pitch for grand prize Thursday

The field of six finalists in the Accelerate: Citizens Make Change civic pitch competition presented by the Cleveland Leadership Center in partnership with Citizens was completed Wednesday (February 24) with the selection of the last two finalist during this year’s virtual, week-long event.

On Thursday, February 25, they and four other Accelerate category finalists will compete against each other and the audience will vote on who receives the $5,000 grand prize. The five runners-up each receive $2,000. Everyone gains exposure for their ideas and networking opportunities to help them succeed.

Those selected Wednesday are:

  • Lisa Rose-Rodriguez, who pitched “Planting Stems of Peace.” She seeks to reduce the incidents of firearm assaults within at-risk populations through harm-reduction models and planting trees. She presented in the Social Change category in partnership with The MetroHealth System.
  • Michelle Park, who pitched “Project DeLight: Dark Night, Stars Bright.” She wants to spread awareness of light pollution and bring change within local communities. She presented in the e Quality of Life category, presented in partnership with The MetroHealth System.

Finalists selected earlier this week are:

  • Abigail Poeske and Rachel Hosler, who pitched for “An Ecosystem of Innovators.” They want to create a talent-attraction program that connects university students on campuses across the region with local industry. They pitched in the Economic Development category presented in partnership and The Lubrizol Corporation and MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network.
  • Laylah Allen and Ashley Welsh, who pitched for “Project Coping Box.” They want to create a container with items that provide skills and tools for youth to calm themselves and/or express emotions. They hope to expand to those experiencing homelessness or impacted by the pandemic. They pitched in the Health & Well-being category presented in partnership with Oatey and Thompson Hine LLP.
  • Antwoine Washington and Michael Russell, who pitched for “MOCHA Gallery” – the Museum of Creative Human Art. They want to give Black visual artists a platform for career support and the freedom to tell their stories while connecting them to the community. Their pitch was in the Authentic Cleveland Experiences category presented in partnership with Destination Cleveland and KJK
  • Sara Kidner, who pitched “Read Like Me,” a literacy and role model initiative. She wants to provide internships to young Black males to address the reading achievement gap in Black male students in grades 3-5. Her pitch was in the Education category presented in partnership with Nordson.

Tickets are Pay What You Can at For one purchase, an entire household can access:

  • All six category competitions, which are recorded and will remain accessible after the event.
  • All the live, virtual events on Thursday, Feb. 27:
    • Technovation competition 4-5 p.m.
    • Teen Entrepreneur Showcase 5:30-6:30 p.m.
    • Finals with audience picking winner 6-7:30 p.m.
  • Pre-recorded videos of each presenter’s pitch.
  • A community board, meet-ups, and networking this week and beyond.

More than 60 pitches were submitted for Accelerate this year. Community leaders narrowed the field to 31 that were presented Monday through Wednesday (February 22-25). In each of the six categories, panels of community leaders with expertise in that topic select one finalist from among five pitches in the category.

In addition to category sponsors, Oswald Companies and Westfield are sponsoring the technology platform to present the event virtually. Cleveland Foundation is sponsoring the Technovation competition for ideas leveraging technology, with that winner receiving $3,500. The Burton D. Morgan Foundation is sponsoring a Teen Enterprise Pop-Up shop – the winning pitch at Accelerate 2018. Jackson Lewis P.C. is sponsor of the Past Presenters Showcase.

In-Kind support is provided by Graham + Fisk’s Wine-In-A-Can, Great Lakes Brewing Co., Weiss Movers and Storage, and Zinner & Co. Additional Accelerate support for presenters is provided by ECDI, ioby, and Small Organization Solutions.

In its seventh year, Accelerate offers a public and influential platform that encourages civic entrepreneurs to develop and share a vision to improve our region, offers them mentoring and support, and nurtures the creation and development of initiatives that are making Northeast Ohio a better place.

Last year, the event brought together 700 people for a single evening. It is being presented virtually this year due to the pandemic.

Cleveland Leadership Center launched Accelerate in 2015 as its signature annual event to support the Center and to promote social innovation. 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

Background, links to pitches and ticket information:

Twitter: #AccelerateNEO, @CitizensBank, @cleveleads

Facebook: @cleveleads, @CitizensBank

Instagram: @cleveleads @citizensbank


Media contact
Michael E. Bennett, VP of External Affairs, C: (216) 408-3874, O: (216) 592-2426,