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Cleveland Leadership Center's Accelerate pitch competition adds Teen Accelerate for 2023

Twelve finalists from local high schools will pitch their ideas for a chance at mentorship and cash prizes. Three of them spoke to 3News' Chris Webb.

CLEVELAND — For years, Cleveland Leadership Center's Accelerate Competition has offered Northeast Ohio residents the chance to pitch innovative ideas to make our region better. This year, they're partnering with University School's Young Entrepreneur Institute to create an Accelerate branch for the next generation -- Teen Accelerate.

"We believe that all students should have the chance to learn about and experience entrepreneurship," said Executive Director Ilene Frankel. "Because during that experience, you get the chance to develop skills that will help you in any path you choose in life."

Ariana Smith is the Institute's Program Coordinator, and says interest in this new category was high.

"We had about 35 applications come in. We initially were going to choose only 10 finalists, but we ended up having 12."

And these 12 finalists from local high schools will pitch their ideas for a chance at mentorship and cash prizes. Three of those 12 shared more about their ideas with 3News.

Gabrielle Williams attends Hawken School is pitching a podcast called "I'm Fine."

"I really want to provide teenagers sort of guidance for them to validate their emotional experience," she explained.

Zaid Ashruf attends University School and will be pitching his idea - "Representation in Research."

"[The idea] started by combining two of my main interests, scientific research and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging projects," he said.

And Kenston High School's Samantha Sunderhaft is pitching her "Mental Health Matters" idea.

"I want to have a mental health day set aside where local businesses can come into my school and provide their services so kids can have a reset day refresh and kind of just rejuvenate,"

With the $250 prize for all 12 finalists and $1,500 for first and second place, tomorrow's Teen Accelerate is going to be a gift for these bright students, but there's more than just money to be discovered.

"Not only does Teen Accelerate give me a massive fund to work with for scientific equipment, but it also connects me with other like-minded students and also faculty members that will give me an opportunity to expand this beyond just what I initially thought," Ashruf said.

And Frankel believes this is just the beginning for these promising young entrepreneurs.

"What they also are going to find is that their ideas, their presentation and their pitch is really not that far off from some of the other finalists in the adult competition. So maybe they'll be in the adult competition next year, maybe they'll be winning the $5,000 prize," she adds.

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