Gilmour Academy Student Earns Entrepreneurial Accolades

In February, Ava Thomas, then a junior at Gilmour Academy (OH), competed at the Accelerate 2017: Citizens Make Change pitch competition. Open to all Cleveland residents, the competition is described by organizers as a “civic Shark Tank.” Thomas was chosen as the finalist.

All contestants then had to make a five-minute pitch about their product at a public event. Thomas pitched her idea for a Memory Mat, a personalized do-it-yourself placemat with pictures and phrases that act as memory cues for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

As a finalist, Thomas presented her product to an audience of 500 people and earned a check for $2,000 to make her vision a reality. The seed money will allow her to buy a portable laminator and other supplies to produce her Memory Mats.

Not only was Thomas the youngest finalist in the competition’s history, she was also the youngest applicant so far.

Thomas came up with the idea for her product after visiting her grandfather in an assisted living facility where he was recovering from surgery. She noticed that the caregivers struggled to come up with conversation starters. Users can customize their Memory Mat with information about their family members, their careers, and anything else they like to talk about.

Thomas plans to approach facilitators at area nursing homes, senior centers, and schools that work with students with disabilities to start distributing her Memory Mats. Organizations or individuals interested in Memory Mats can contact Thomas at