Notes from CIL's Meet the Champions 11/16/04

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Wed, 11/17/2004 - 15:14.

<>Full house at the Trinity Commons for the Civic Innovations
Lab “Meet the Champions� breakfast.
CIL’s Jennifer Thomas spends a few minutes to introduce the
purpose and intent of the Civic Innovation Lab, thanks everyone for coming to
this event, and congratulate and introduce the champions of the latest three
projects CIL has funded. Some quick observation from this part of the event…

CIL only reviews proposals they receive over their website
so the first place to go to see if they are a good fit for a project is online
- good, informative site.

They’ve funded 8 projects this year – total of about
$200,000 – have receives around 100 proposals so far, and encourage more to be
presented. The proposals are reviewed by a group of volunteer community leaders
who also serve as “mentors� of project that are chosen – it seems they need
more mentors – as each project must have a mentor to proceed – so feel free to
contact the if you feel you would offer value in that position – must be
prepared to contribute time, energy and insight. Again, review their website
for details on this exciting process.

When a project is considered to be of interest to CIL, they
ask the champions to make a 10 minute presentation to all the mentors and
administrators, who then “grill� the champions on what makes it special, what
is the value to the community, how is it sustainable, etc.

At this event, at the lovely Trinity Commons, Jennifer asked
each Champion there to briefly present their projects for a mini-grilling:

Randy McShepard, Tim Goler and Marc Batson represent Policy

From the CIL Press release on this event:

PolicyBridge, a new,
African-American led think tank focused on Northeast Ohio, received $30,000 to
research, analyze and strategically respond to critical policy issues impacting
the African-American community. Policy Bridge was created by Randell McShepard,
director of community affairs for RPM, Inc.,
Timothy Goler, president of EduCare Consultants Ltd.,;
and Mark C. Batson, chief operating officer of Northeast Ohio Neighborhood
Health Services, Inc. Scott Roulston, president and CEO of Fairport Asset
Management, is serving as the project’s mentor.

PolicyBridge plans to
examine the issues most affecting Northeast Ohio’s economic growth and quality
of life. 

One of their reps described PolicyBridge as a think tank on
policy issues of interest to the African American community – they believe
there are people here working on issues of interest in their community but
mostly in response to documented needs, rather in proactive visioning to
anticipate issues and so needs. They have met with other think tanks around the
country to explore ideas and learned there is a need for an urban policies
think tank as they are planning – not just focused on Cleveland – looking at
NEO – Mid-West – still fleshing-out scope. – writing white papers. CIL rep
Jennifer Thomas asks how average person will access and they respond that is an
issue they are working through – perhaps Cleveland365 – perhaps REI.

From the CIL Press release on this event:,
created by Terry Travis, president of UPG Media, a marketing, graphic design
and printing firm, received $17,000 and will be mentored by Tom Furnas, senior
director of technology at ideastream®. Terry will also be a
participant in the 2005 Cleveland BridgeBuilders Flagship Program. will serve as the online resource for Cleveland’s minority
community with features that include a database of minority-owned businesses
and job seekers resources for entrepreneurs, such as a catalog of local
attorneys, accountants and other agencies that specialize in business start up.

Among other economic development issues, attempts to close the gap on the disproportionate ratio of the
minority population to minority owned businesses by serving as a primary
internet resource for information on and promotion of these businesses.  

Terry Travis has developed as a hub for African
Americans to network for economic development – including resource database and
links to amenities. Based on analysis of needs and services in this community,
Terry feels this is timely and appropriate. An attendee asked why start a new
portal rather than collaborate with existing outlets. He says they are
collaborating with a large African American newspaper chain and local writers,
but his focus group analysis found they needed to meet specific needs not
addressed by existing portals here.

Cleveland365 is innovative by partnering with similar
entities in other areas so they can be connected. This is not a “start-up� in
that Terry has been building a community of people interested in this – 15,000
in database – now creating virtual community - the most challenging issue was
the programming (open source – PHP – his mentor said it was very difficult
finding expertise in this language, which is a problem in this region) – have built
easy GUI and is building database of resources which they hope will inspire
more African American businesses.

(I spoke with Terry and his mentor after the discussion to
offer them free access to the REALNEO open source content management system if
that may enhance their efforts.)

CIL’s Jennifer Thomas took a moment to stress they grilled Terry
(and the others) and determined there were unique needs these programs address
that in a practical sense are not currently met in this community. The founders
saw holes in community services – using CIL grants for champions to build up resources
to meet these needs one brick at a time.

PolicyBridge rep mentions the cluster effect – if an
economic sector strategy is strong then there will be many participants – the
more seeds you sprinkle around the better chance some strengths will grow.

From the CIL Press release on this event:

BackTalk Magazine, an
online magazine for teens and pre-teens in the Greater Cleveland area created
by 15-year-old Erin Johnson, received $10,500 and will be mentored by Tim Biro,
managing partner of The Ohio Innovation Fund. Through BackTalk, Johnson hopes to expose youth to important issues,
keep them informed of what the region has to offer, give them the opportunity
to express their own ideas and opinions, expose them to the notion of community
service and provide a venue for individuals of different backgrounds to
interact. BackTalk will also
feature stories and artwork submitted by its readers. Johnson is attempting to
tackle the brain drain at an early stage by energizing the region’s youth.

Erin Johnson is introduced as an exceptional young Andrews student
and excellent writer. An observation: it is quite unique for any organization
to “back� a student in such an effort, so this is an interesting initiative in
many respects.

Erin explains one of her motivations in proposing BackTalk
is to have an outlet for her writing - online “magazine� geared toward young
people – builds community for them and communicates their points of view – not
normally represented in this region… a live voice

Attendee asks how does the CIL rate sustainability of
programs? CIL says that is one aspect they push hard to clarify – asks panel
for feedback. Policy Bridge rep says entrepreneurship is never easy – starts
with getting funding and then they have sharpened the pencil to think about how
they are going to build their team and get to their next dollar. CIL points out
they mentor each project, offering business insight and relationships – a core
element of the program.

Attendee with a consulting firm called Tag Team stands up to
explain he sees how each of these efforts fit well with his clients’ needs and
interests so he is already looking for synergies, and he believes CIL raising
these issues and championing “just doing it� creates another great forum for
people to share ideas and team up.

RE: sustainability – Terry is looking across this marketplace
for business partners to develop revenue model

Erin has to look to when she gets older – how to retain
focus – CIL has her talking to Girl Scouts, for example for maintaining age
appropriate leadership and focus.

Jennifer asks what is civic about their programs? Terry will
provide info and resources to a large segment of the community. He also sees
segments of the community that want to be entrepreneurial but aren’t ready/able
to take risks alone – need support structure. Policy Bridge rep says America is
built on civic entrepreneurship, but now many people go through life very
casually – make a few bucks and move to the suburbs – he wants to renew vision
of everyone coming together to do better. Other policy bridge rep says same
thing, seeming almost embarrassed to be “socialist� – he has innate love for
his people (African American) and hates to see the community condition in area
– wants to help his community and everyone afford heat this winter, for
example. He sees working from the broader policy side helping to address these

Erin wants to inform other young people about issues of
interest to that community – scholarships, etc. Her perspective comes from
going from her comfort zone at her public school to Andrews, where the student
body is more diverse – that has given her broader perspectives… thinks all
students need broad perspectives outside their comfort zones.

Policy Bridge sees their effort as going into a very uncomfortable
space – presenting diverse opinions – one thing that has hurt us as a society
is we’re too PC – need to take more risks.

Jennifer introduces issue of Economic Development impact of
these projects and CIL. CIL wants to use their efforts to create jobs, etc.

Policy Bridge is talking to preeminent think tanks around
the country and hears none have good understanding of urban economies. They
want to get arms around that, compare notes with other cities, look for best
practices, and provide more valuable insight.

Terry says if we showcase our strengths we may pull experts
here – attract talented people. A friend from NY was here for 5 months and was
so dissatisfied with access to information he left for Chicago – seems too
often Cleveland is seen as transitional for professionals but not sustainable

BackTalk will help get youths out of their boxes to be more
involved in the economy and then help avoid brain drain.

Audience asks how will you market – get word out?

Cleveland365 has database of 15,000 people and markets
through major events, etc. Challenge has been finding programmers, etc, in this
area who could build their technology – expect membership to double in first
year. Back Street strategy is more grass roots and viral.

Attendee asks how process works. CIL takes proposals off the
website and mentors review – then they have 10 minute presentations and the
mentors discuss and then a mentor signs up to work with “champions� and then
they meet and come up with budget and sell that to the group. CIL is very
focused on mentor to the champions.

Policy Bridge says their mentor has asked them the right
questions – also working with Center For Community Solutions. Also talks of
this giving them access to relationships.

365 speaks of Tom Furnas as especially helpful with the IT

County commissioners have presented the champions with
certificates of recognition, which are handed out and the meeting adjourns.
Everyone looks forward to seeing these and past and future CIL projects succeed
– if you have an interest to help make that reality, to work with the CIL as a
mentor or otherwise supporter, or you want to propose a civic innovation, go to
their website: