Symposium to explore innovation and disruption

Inaugural cohort of “Fresh Innovators” to be honored

Cleveland Leadership Center’s Spark: Grit to Great symposium on August 29 will challenge hundreds of Clevelanders to explore innovation and disruption as ways to move the community forward.

“The status quo will not get us where we want to go,” said CLC President and CEO Marianne Crosley. “Spark is an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and be curious. It will spark innovative thinking, collaboration, and action that can change how we work and live.”

The event, sponsored by Skoda Minotti, will be from 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Cleveland Metropolitan Conference Center, 1375 East Ninth St., Second Floor, Cleveland, OH 44114. Registration is at, or by calling (216) 592-2289.

In addition to Spark Labs sessions that focus on human-centered design elements, the symposium will debut the first group of Fresh Innovators. Cleveland Leadership Center, FreshWater Cleveland, and WKYC Channel 3 collaborated to recognize four individuals for innovative work impacting the community.

The honorees will be participate in a Spark Lab prototyping workshop where they will present an idea or need around their project and get ideas and feedback from attendees. The honorees are:

  • Stephanie Buda, Founder of The Kids of 216, which supports summer instruction and employment for at-risk youth interested in vocational trades programs.
  • Thomas Gill, President of Urban Community School. The school has launched several programs to ensure near-West Side children receive a quality education that empowers them to achieve their full potential and inspires them to give back to the community.
  • Jacqueline Gillon, founder of Black Environmental Leaders and Community Engagement Specialist, Thriving Communities Institute, at the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.
  • Shelly Gracon, MSSA, Founder and CEO of GLO Cleveland and EVOLV Co-Working Studio for Women, a versatile event space in the city and innovative co-working environment supporting female entrepreneurs.

The honorees will be profiled in FreshWater, an online publication covering people, places, and projects driving Cleveland’s transformation. They will be featured on WKYC’s We the People this fall, when the weekly show, which introduces the community to Northeast Ohio innovators, will expand to a one-hour format.

Spark will kick off with Tom Merrill of Experience Point Inc. inspiring participants to take action, drawing on his unique perspective into creativity, human-centered design, and innovation. He has consulted with large corporations and startups, and held positions involving innovation and strategic planning in higher education.

His remarks will be followed by highly interactive Spark Labs facilitated by business and community leaders who have successfully leveraged innovation concepts. Topics include having courage to embrace failure, shifting your mindset to view the familiar through a new lens, turning ideas into action, cultivating a cross-community collaborative environment, creating a culture of innovation, nurturing empathy, prototyping, and humanizing challenges, Visit for a complete list of labs and facilitators.

A closing Spark Lab after lunch will feature a thought-provoking and interactive discussion on a collective path forward, facilitated by Scott Allen, PhD, the Standard Products-Dr. James S. Reid Chair in Management at the Boler College of Business at John Carroll University.

Additional event supporters include the GE Lighting, Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, Saint Luke’s Foundation, and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.

Event details        

  • What: Spark: Grit to Great leadership symposium presented by Cleveland Leadership Center with support from Skoda Minotti, and Fresh Innovators recognition in partnership with FreshWater Cleveland and WKYC Channel 3
  • When: Thursday, August 29, 2019, 7:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Where: Cleveland Metropolitan Conference Center, 1375 East Ninth St., Second Floor, Cleveland, OH 44114
  • Cost: $100; $25 for students
  • Information and tickets: Direct questions to (216) 592-2289 or
  • Twitter and Facebook: @cleveleads

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About the Cleveland Leadership Center (CLC)
The Cleveland Leadership Center’s mission is to build a continuum of civic leaders committed to our community’s excellence by serving as a catalyst for civic engagement. CLC inspires and connects people to transform Cleveland by developing leaders of all age through learning and community engagement opportunities.

Media contact
Michael E. Bennett, Vice President of External Affairs
Work: (216) 592-2426, Cell: (216) 408-3874,