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Business Finance Innovation

A Community Commitment at Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab

In 2018, Morgan Stanley launched its Multicultural Innovation Lab, an innovative in-house accelerator for tech-enabled companies that have a female or multicultural founder. At a recent CDX Digital Roundtable, Alice Vilma, who runs the lab, spoke with Kirin Kalia, head of content and marketing at KITE, which facilitates and scales partnerships between startups and enterprises. Vilma said the lab was born because “gaps exist for early-stage funding for these entrepreneurs…Somewhere between two cents out of every dollar is invested in female-founded startups and less than one cent to black and Hispanic entrepreneurs.”

The Lab welcomes a new cohort each spring, and the most recent was announced just two days before the pandemic lockdown in New York City. “They all moved into the office one day and then we all went home” says Vilma. But happily, “we were able to flip seamlessly into a virtual program”. 

The ROI on Innovation

Morgan Stanley picks participants not because they are building something it could use in its business, but based on their merit as entrepreneurs and the quality of their ideas. The Lab sits within the Multicultural Strategy Group at Morgan Stanley. Vilma said it was designed “to help identify, develop and execute commercial opportunities in the multicultural business segment.” As for the Lab’s specific ROI metrics, “we want to prove success from a business standpoint,” she explained, “whether that’s getting our companies to that next round, to the next investor, or the next phase in their growth.” In other words, it’s not a conventional ROI calculation, but a more community-oriented, stakeholder-focused calculation. The audience for the roundtable was impressed with Morgan Stanley’s commitment.

For the entrepreneurs, the lab is a way to help them grow as businesspeople and as leaders: “We provide every company a formal mentor at Morgan Stanley… we build a roadmap together (and) then hold them accountable so they can get to where they need to be.”

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