Meet Some of Cleveland's Innovators

Every city has its champions, its innovative leaders - those who, no matter their work, embody the spirit of their city and help drive progress and inclusivity forward. And Cleveland is full of them.

From June 14-17, Forward Cities leaders will meet in Cleveland to explore how to drive inclusive innovation. Out of town participants will have the opportunity to meet with Cleveland entrepreneurs, business incubators, social innovators, and neighborhood and government leaders. These local innovators give us the opportunity to share best practices, and learn from and be inspired by their work.

Here are a few that will be highlighted during the Forward Cities convening:

Gloria Ware is the principal officer for inclusion at JumpStart, a non-profit venture development organization that unlocks the potential of diverse and ambitious entrepreneurs to economically transform communities. Ware manages the JumpStart Focus Fund, a $10M seed-capital fund that invests in tech companies that are either female or minority owned/led. Believed to be one of the largest funds of its kind in the nation, it invests between $250 thousand to $750 thousand into companies that are located in Ohio or relocating to Ohio. Ware's role at JumpStart also allows her to advise many small, minority and women owned businesses through their Core City: Cleveland Impact, an intensive business assistance program that supports the development and growth of businesses in Cleveland's most underserved neighborhoods.

Victor Ruiz is the executive director of Esperanza Inc., a nonprofit that aims to improve the academic achievement of Hispanics in Greater Cleveland by supporting students to graduate high school and promoting post-secondary educational attainment. By using a community approach to help kids succeed, Ruiz is almost single-handedly improving graduation rates in the Hispanic community- from 30% to over 60% in a few short years and increasing the number of scholarships awarded every year. In 2014, Esperanza awarded 103 scholarships, up from around 40 in 2010. "Education is community," says Ruiz, "it has to be a priority."

Deborah Armstrong is the principal owner of hand-in-hand, a local business that makes and sells homemade pre-term baby blankets. Armstrong was inspired to become an entrepreneur after her own personal experiences in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit. To help grow her business, Armstrong participated in JumpStart's Core City: Cleveland Impact program, where she won the grand prize and extensive training. Armstrong says that what she loves about being an entrepreneur is that "entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs no matter their product. We are all truly the same."

Darren Hamm is the executive director of The Refugee Response, a non-profit that helps refugees adjust and become self-sufficient, contributing members of the Northeast Ohio community. Hamm oversees programming and operations and is directly involved in connecting refugees across Cleveland to The Refugee Response's many programs. One such program is The Refugee Empowerment Agricultural Program (REAP), which provides employment, job and life skills training to refugees with agricultural skills at Ohio City Farm and other gardens. In the past year, trainees cultivated and distributed 22,000 lbs. of produce and supported the weekly delivery of food to 120 CSA members.

Want to meet more of Cleveland's innovators? Check out this article about 7 people changing the conversation about Cleveland. You can also read the bios of more attendees of the Cleveland Convening and also look back at past convenings.