Presented by Citizens, Accelerate is the Cleveland Leadership Center’s annual pitch competition for community members who want to make a positive change in the Northeast Ohio region. Participants can submit a pitch for one of the six different categories. The winner of the competition receives funding to help launch or grow their innovative ideas.
What do winning ideas look like?
Meet two finalists in the education and social change categories to see how they used their funding to promote their ideas.
2021 Accelerate Winner Sara Kidner
Meet Sara Kidner, who launched Read Like Me after winning the top prize of $5,000 at Accelerate 2021.
Read Like Me is a literacy and role model program that provides internships to young Black males to address the reading achievement gap in Black male students in grades 3-5.
This initiative includes hiring mentors to work with local elementary schools to run book clubs and reading circles.
View the pitch video below to learn more about how Read Like Me not only addresses the literacy gap but also gives opportunities to promote education as a career field for Black male student leaders.
What is Read Like Me Doing Now?
Kidner continued to grow after Accelerate by collecting more than 250 books for students. Through an Amazon wishlist, students request books they want, and individuals can donate them. According to Kidner, the students really enjoy stories with main characters who look like them.
The program’s newest project includes high school students reading to elementary students, which provides a mentorship opportunity and encourages students to consider an education career path.
Check out this YouTube video for more information on their mentorship program.
Connect with Sara Kidner and Read Like Me
2020 Accelerate Winner Jowan Smith
“How do you tie a tie?”
This sounds like a simple question. But the difference between knowing and not knowing can have a far-reaching impact.
Competing at Accelerate 2020 in the Social Change category, Jowan Smith pitched her idea for 1,000 Ties, a program that educates inner-city males ages 6-21 on dining etiquette, communication skills, grooming, sportsmanship, proper dress — and, most important, how to be the best version of themselves.
Smith took home the top prize and successfully launched the program. This promotional video, filmed soon after Accelerate 2020, details how it works:
1,000 Ties Today
Smith has expanded the program since its initial launch under the mantra of “Connecting Our Youth & the Business Community.” 1,000 Ties has held events all over Greater Cleveland and now features a special STEM initiative in partnership with Cuyahoga Community College.
Smith spoke at a Cleveland Leadership Center The Way Forward Leader Lunch Break to provide an update on 1,000 Ties and another Accelerate-funded initiative, Getting Our Babies to College 101:
Connect with Jowan Smith and 1,000 Ties
Finalists in Action
Although only one overall winner can take home the top prize at Accelerate each year, the five remaining finalists each receive $2,000 to help bring their ideas to life. Check out pitches from the other five pitch categories at Accelerate 2021 on YouTube:
- Authentic Cleveland Experiences
(Antwoine Washington & Michael Russell, MOCHA Gallery)
- Economic Prosperity
(Abigail Poeske & Rachel Hosler, An Ecosystem of Innovators)
- Health & Well-being
(Laylah Allen & Ashley Welch, Project Coping Box)
- Quality of Life
(Michelle Park, Project DeLight: Dark Night, Stars Bright)
- Social Change
(Lisa Rose-Rodriguez, Planting Stems of Peace)
View the Accelerate news archives to learn more about finalists from 2020, 2019, 2018, and beyond.
Will You Be the Winner at Accelerate 2022?
Sara Kidner and Jowan Smith turned their ideas into a reality by submitting their pitches to the Accelerate competition. Now, it’s your turn.
Applications to pitch are open through Friday, December 3, 2021. Submit yours today!