Cleveland Foundation announces Digital Excellence Initiative to build a strong, equitable, and resilient digital community

Nearly $500,000 will help position Greater Cleveland as leader in digital innovation and access

release date: 1.19.2017

CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Foundation board of directors has approved two grants to launch the foundation’s new Digital Excellence Initiative: $200,000 to Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and Cleveland State University (CSU) to establish an “Internet of Things” (IoT) collaborative and $250,000 for DigitalC’s ReStart program, which will provide digital literacy skills leading to in-demand jobs for Cleveland’s underemployed residents.

The Cleveland Foundation’s Digital Excellence Initiative will invest in efforts that create a more connected community, support digital skills development, improve digital civic engagement, elevate regional digital leadership, and encourage technology innovation for social good.

“This new initiative reflects the foundation’s ongoing commitment to strengthen Greater Cleveland’s digital landscape, an area in which we can and must compete or we risk being left behind,” said Leon Wilson, Cleveland Foundation Chief of Digital Innovation and Chief Information Officer. “Now is the time to elevate Cleveland’s culture of technological innovation and leadership while ensuring all Greater Clevelanders have equitable and inclusive access to technology and the digital skills necessary to participate fully in the digital economy.”

The foundation’s grant to CWRU and CSU will explore the possibilities for the IoT collaborative, a regional research effort to assess, promote and innovate the vast interconnected network of devices. These devices include consumer products and regionally relevant items such as factory-automated sensors, medical and patient data devices, infrastructure monitoring systems, and environmental quality and distribution measurements. The grant also supports an IoT symposium that will explore the potential regional economic impact of such a collaborative by seeking feedback from stakeholders including: public sector, industry, eco-system intermediaries, and other higher educational institutions.

“This funding provides a focused opportunity for Case Western Reserve and CSU to develop an academic collaboration that includes education and research in the emerging field of IoT by capitalizing on our individual strengths, leveraging our complementary assets and identifying critical needs for the future,” said Kenneth Loparo, the Nord Professor and chair of CWRU’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“With increasing reliance on social networking systems, the fundamental structures of human contact and communication have begun to include the physical infrastructure around us in ways previously never imagined,” added Nigamanth Sridhar, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at CSU. “The vision for such an always-connected world includes an Internet of Things, which can provide society with a seamless, coherent and unified interface to the world around us. This grant allows CSU and CWRU to work together in new and innovative ways to provide educational and research opportunities to our region.”

The foundation’s grant to DigitalC will help launch ReStart, a program to address the growing opportunity gap between those who have access to digital technologies and training and those who do not. ReStart builds on DigitalC’s Connect the Unconnected (CUC) internet access program currently piloted with the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), connecting eight Campus District properties, including six CMHA estates, a charter school and a men’s shelter, to high-speed internet and providing digital literacy and device training. ReStart will also provide wraparound services—including software skills and workforce readiness training and credentialing—to better prepare underemployed residents for family-sustaining jobs in the community.

“ReStart is a community-wide partnership with a coalition of providers and organizations that is committed to a digital on-ramp for workforce development in Northeast Ohio,” said Lev Gonick, CEO of DigitalC. “We believe that the digital economy must be accessible to everyone in our community to ensure that all can participate in the discovery and opportunities afforded by the digital tools that inform so much of the way we live, work, and play.” 

In 2014, the foundation also approved a program related investment (PRI) of $300,000 for the DigitalC Fund, which provides seed capital investments for entrepreneurs focused on software/hardware solutions and products and/or services in big data, the Industrial and Consumer IoT, and civic tech.

To learn more about the Digital Excellence Initiative, including a history of Cleveland Foundation grants supporting technology innovation and talent development in Greater Cleveland, please visit


Established in 1914, the Cleveland Foundation is the world’s first community foundation and one of the largest today, with assets of $2.1 billion and 2015 grants of $95 million. Through the generosity of donors, the foundation improves the lives of residents of Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga Counties by building community endowment, addressing needs through grantmaking, and providing leadership on vital issues. The foundation tackles the community’s priority areas – education and youth development, neighborhoods, health and human services, arts and culture, economic development and purposeful aging – and responds to the community’s needs.

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