Updated Jan 30, 2019; Posted Feb 22, 2018
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Tory Coats won $5,000 at Accelerate 2018, getting one step closer to transforming his idea of giving young entrepreneurs opportunities to sell products out of under-utilized storefronts and vacant lots in the inner city.
"Typically when you think about what it means to be successful within our communities, it's generally measured by how far away you can get from the community," Coats said. "The Dare to Believe entrepreneurial pop-up shops are designed to reinforce that you can make it in the 'hood.
"The goal is to create opportunities so that students can actually visualize that they can own businesses in their own communities," said Coats, after winning the top prize in a competition that started with 77 entrants. Accelerate 2018: Citizens Make Change, is presented by Citizens Bank and the Cleveland Leadership Center.
Wednesday night, 25 finalists pitched their ideas to judges at the Global Center for Health Innovation. But an audience of nearly 500 people voted on their phones after listening to the top five pitches.
This year, finalist pitches ranged from creative ways to encourage entrepreneurship among youth, and addressing food insecurity, to caring for those with dementia or special needs, and using music or art to creatively address challenges.
The four finalists who each won $2,000 to start building on their ideas:
Keshia Johnson Chambers
This is BLK CLE -- An internet and social media-based platform to support and promote the African American community and those who are engaged in or want to learn more about it.
Christopher Scott Speak for Me -- An app that connects schools and organizations in the African American community with a network of local talented speakers who can address specific motivational needs.
Gina VanCant & Kendra Valton
Latch & Learn -- Promoting breastfeeding in the African American community through education, incentives, consultants and other resources that reduce infant mortality.
Angela Bair Special Needs Resource Library -- A library that makes educational and therapeutic resources accessible to parents/caregivers of special needs children, as well as educators, students and professionals.
Making life better for Northeast Ohioans starts with ideas, but ideas are transformed to realities when people in the community help each other. The pitch competition is designed to be the spark and validation necessary to help turn ideas into businesses.
While the votes were tallied, Jeremy Langham, the winner of Accelerate 2017, told the crowd that he's raised nearly $40,000 since last year's competition. But just as importantly he's met lots of people who have helped him. His pitch was for Ironborne Brew Works, a benevolent brewpub that gives part of beer tab profits to charity. After Accelerate, he presented and won at the SEA Change accelerator pitch, set up an Indiegogo fundraising page, and continues to search for a permanent spot in Cleveland to open his brewery this year.
Accelerate 2018 winner Coats is already making strides by working with the Boys & Girls Club with an entrepreneurship program he launched, but he's seeking a lot of help with his dream to provide young entrepreneurs business experience. He needs help in giving students opportunities to sell products out of under-utilized storefronts and vacant lots.
"It's not necessarily about making out of the 'hood in order to be successful," he said, after winning last night's competition. "What that means is, I want teens to understand that they can invest in their own communities and learn how to start businesses and give back to the community. I want to empower our youth by teaching them economic skills."