CH residents reach finals in civic pitch competition

Authentic Cleveland Experiences finalist and sponsors, from left: Alex Harnocz, Destination Cleveland; Michael Bustamante; Jon Pinney, KJK. (Photo courtesy CLC)

The 8th annual Accelerate: Citizens make Change civic-pitch competition took center stage on Feb. 24, with exciting live pitching, live voting, and an in-person crowd of 300 attendees.

Sponsored by Cleveland Leadership Center and Citizens Bank, Accelerate gives Greater Cleveland entrepreneurs the chance to win seed money to enable them to launch their ideas to make the region a better place. A panel of judges and community leaders selected six finalists, with the live audience voting for the grand prize winner. Two Cleveland Height residents were among the finalists.

Michael Bustamante is Case Western Reserve University’s director of diversity and strategic initiatives. A first-generation college graduate of Mexican heritage who hails from Laredo, Texas, Bustamante lives in Cleveland Heights. He was a finalist in the Authentic Cleveland Experiences and Technovation categories.

During a trip to China, Bustamante experienced the power of self-reflective cross-cultural connection. At Accelerate, Bustamante pitched his project, Connecting Cleveland.

“Connecting Cleveland is about you and your experiences,” he said. “It would be about the human experience—an actual museum and interactive experience to learn about DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) topics, identities and perspective-sharing.”

Bustamante hopes to expand the Connecting Cleveland pilot into community centers, universities, and libraries nationwide.

Hathaway Brown School juniors Lauren Voinovich, of Cleveland Heights, and Marianna Steele, of Shaker Heights, teamed up to pitch their project, Second Chance, in the Quality of Life and Technovation categories, and were also names finalists.

Second Chance is a recycling tracker with an attachment that goes on a consumer's recycling bin. Using UPC and QR product codes, Second Chance creates a sophisticated database and integrated app. The goal? To empower and educate consumers on personal/municipality sustainability and recycling policy, lowering the overall carbon footprint for a cleaner, greener planet for all.

Through a Hathaway Brown business and finance fellowship, Voinovich and Steele originally competed in the thinkBIG! Business Challenge sponsored by The Veale Foundation, taking second place in the high school entrepreneurial competition. A mentor recommended the young innovators apply for Accelerate.

“It was originally not a QR code,” explained Voinovich, “but a tangible light-up sensor. The idea evolved, and the pitch and class allowed us to brainstorm and refine our idea. Our goal is to create a tangible product.” 

Voinovich’s advice for other rising entrepreneurs?

“No matter how far along, or how possible it is, definitely try and apply for Accelerate,” she said. “Practice and pitch, even if you don’t win. Even if you don’t draw the attention of the greater crowd. You can find out what your niche is, or what you’re passionate about. It’s not just about grant money. The marketing and networking, connecting with legal, software, and technology, has been so helpful.”

Jing Lauengco

Jing Lauengco, brand strategist and chief optimist of JING INC. and Podcast host of NEXT THING WITH JING, was Accelerate’s Technovation 2021 winner and Social Change finalist for OTHER BROWN GIRL, a brand platform celebrating modern diversity, design, and digital storytelling for the next generation of multicultural leaders and creative entrepreneurs. She lives in Cleveland Heights with her husband and their son.

Read More on Features
Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 2:36 PM, 04.01.2022