CLEVELAND — Accelerate is a pitch competition in its eighth year where Northeast Ohio residents pitch ideas to make their region stronger.
"In the eight years, we've seen hundreds of individuals from across Cuyahoga County bring forth fabulous ideas that all impact people and affect them how they live and where they live," Michael Bennett, vice president of external affairs at Cleveland Leadership Center, said. "I get a real charge from seeing the presenters form and develop their ideas from when they apply in November until they hit the stage in February."
As Bennett explains, for many in the program, this is their first experience pitching their big idea.
"Many of these individuals are not used to presenting," he noted. "They're just ordinary citizens who have an idea of how to change their community for the better."
One of these citizens with a community changing idea was Laylah Allen, who presented her pitch in 2021.
"I used to work in re-entry, so working with individuals that were recently incarcerated," Allen told us. "During my time working with them as a job coach, I started to recognize that there were a lot of things that they didn't learn or that I was actually re-teaching them."
So, an idea was born. Allen called it Project Coping Box.
"Which is just me literally placing tools and resources directly into the hands of youth," she said. "The things that we place in these bikes are in place to promote the ability to de-stress to practice self-care and also express your emotions."
Allen says her participation in the program immediately helped give her project a platform and newfound visibility.
"Through participating, I've received so many different emails messages," she explained, "and then you have others that are like, Hey, I heard about this and I want to actually donate.'"
And just one year later, Project Coping Box is reaching new milestones.
"We've officially become a 501c3 organization," Allen said. "Also, I've developed the curriculum to go right along with Project Coping Box. We need to continue to get in the practice of just generating ideas and exploring creativity to resolve real-life issues."
This year's finalists will pitch to a full audience on Feb. 24 which votes on the winner. The victor receives $5,000, and the remaining five finalists each get $2,000 to help bring their ideas to life. The Technovation competition will also award $3,500 to the most innovative technology-based idea.