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Accelerate 2022: Winning project aims to diversify tech in Northeast Ohio

Grayter Cleveland aims to create diverse pairs of tech employees to meet with students so they can see different people working together.

CLEVELAND — Attendees of Accelerate may feel like they're at a festival but it's actually a competition. With a Samba troupe on site and a packed house, there was plenty of excitement in the air for Cleveland Leadership Center's annual pitch competition last week, where ordinary Ohioans present pitches for extraordinary original ideas.

"It's really about providing opportunities and networking and connections for folks that have wonderful ideas in our community to help make our community better," said Jim Malz, Managing Director at Cititzens Bank - the event's sponsor.

The night is packed with live pitching, and live voting. And while all category finalists receive two thousand dollars, the winner receives the five thousand dollar grand prize. This year's winners were Courtney Smith and Shane Winnyk for their idea Grayter Cleveland.

"We intend to go into Cleveland high school classrooms to deliver tech TED talks with a twist - the twist being that they're delivered together by two people who are different," Winnyk explained.

The hope is to help students reimagine technology careers by seeing people like themselves in the field, says Smith.

"We can sort of relay that message just by walking into the room, there are folks who don't know that they can do this, that you don't just have to code," he said. "There are a lot of other things you can do, and if you can see it then you can do it."

This is the eighth year for Accelerate and as Courtney and Shane prepare their initiative for the future, they leave parting advice for next year's participants. 

"We would encourage anybody in the community, in the city of Cleveland to put your pitches and your ideas out there because this is where you're in a room with people that can make them happen," Winnyk said. "And you never know what happens when you get up on that stage."

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