Networking at its finest: Investing in Cleveland changemakers

Networking at its finest: Investing in Cleveland changemakers

Feeling like she didn’t have the right resources or confidence, Shayla Ivezzy thought she couldn’t put her ideas into action. But after hearing a panel of finalists from the Cleveland Leadership Center’s Accelerate 2016 talk about the opportunities provided by the competition, she decided to submit her application.

What Ivezzy calls a whim decision led her to become an Accelerate 2017 finalist for her idea, “Career Closet: More Than a Wardrobe.” The mobile center provides professional attire and career resources for Cleveland’s young people. Ivezzy has gone from struggling with self-doubt to building relationships with key stakeholders in workforce development, like Youth Opportunities Unlimited and Towards Employment. She also partners with the Thea Bowman Center and local schools, including John Adams and Shaw high schools.

As a first generation college student from a single parent home, the entrepreneur thought she wouldn’t have enough support to win the competition.

“I have a very small support system in my family,” Ivezzy says. “But so many people I didn’t know prior to that event said they believe in me and see my passion. That was the most rewarding part. I thought I only had a few advocates, but the community showed up for me.”

Now in its fourth year, 25 budding entrepreneurs will pitch their ideas at Accelerate 2018 starting at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 21. Anyone from the community can attend, hear the pitches and vote for the Top 5 finalists. Tickets include appetizers and a drink ticket.

The overall winner will receive $5,000, while the next four will have $2,000 in seed money for their ideas. Competitors don’t have an established business. The purpose is to launch civically minded ideas. Categories include Community Change, Economic & Workforce Development, Educating for Tomorrow, Health & Wellness and Quality of Life. The Cleveland Leadership Center chose 25 presenters from about 100 applicants.

“The ideas from people who don’t win often still get off the ground because of community leaders at the event who take an interest,” says Ursula Cottone, Accelerate 2018 co-chair.

Allison Lukacsy-Love, who was a 2016 finalist for her “Bus Stop Moves” exercise and wellness program, is returning to Accelerate this year to pitch a new idea, “Give Box CLE.” Expanding on the Little Free Library concept, these boxes will provide necessities to anyone in need. “When you go to the dentist, they give you a toothbrush that you don’t need,” says Lukacsy-Love as one example of what to include in the Give Box. “There is excess in neighborhoods and really deep needs.”  

By having the Accelerate platform, Lukacsy-Love says it gave her “Bus Stop Moves” idea a “legitimacy” it didn’t have before the competition. “The audience at Accelerate included people from the MetroHealth System and RTA [Regional Transit Authority], and all of a sudden I was being contacted by people who said they want this program,” she says.

Allison Lukacsy-Love

Now, Lukacsy-Love’s “Bus Stop Moves” are in three-dozen public transportation shelters in the City of Cleveland. The entrepreneur, who is also the city planner for Euclid, has been in talks to bring this program to Cleveland’s inner-ring suburbs and outside Northeast Ohio.

“The community that’s there judging you is also the community supporting you,” says Lukacsy-Love. “They want great things for you.”

Cottone adds, “The number of people interested in helping the community is very motivating. It gives you a fabulous feeling about Cleveland and the people in it.”

Full disclosure: WISH Cleveland (then called Good Cause CLE) was an Accelerate 2016 finalist. 

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