In September 2023, the Morgan Stanley Inclusive Ventures Lab welcomed its largest and most geographically diverse cohort. Twenty-three disruptive tech companies were chosen to participate in the five-month in-house accelerator program for underrepresented founders of technology and technology-enabled startups in the post-seed to Series A funding round stage. The Inclusive Ventures Lab, formerly the Multicultural Innovation Lab, kicked off in 2017 and, with the launch of the new cohort, has had 92 companies participate to date. Previous Lab companies have gone on to raise more than $207 million in additional funding.
“Our footprint and our portfolio may have grown, but our focus remains the same: providing access that otherwise might be out of reach for these entrepreneurs,” says Selma Bueno, Global Head of Morgan Stanley Inclusive Ventures Group. “Whether you are the founder of RideLink, a Ugandan company that leverages technology to enable small and medium-sized business to move cargo, or of DotLab, a U.S.-based startup that uses AI and machine learning to develop breakthrough technologies that lead to better health outcomes for women, we are committed to helping you take your business to the next level.”
A Lasting Impact
One of the startups that has benefitted from that commitment is Gappify, headquartered in New York City and led by Jotham Ty, an accounting professional who had a vision of a cloud-based platform to help corporate accountants automate repetitive, time-consuming and error-prone tasks.
He and his team were energized by the possibilities for this platform. Still, they came up against an obstacle that many underrepresented founders face: The world of venture funding typically tilts toward people in the same networks and from the same backgrounds.
Morgan Stanley created the Inclusive Ventures Lab—which offers participants capital, a curated curriculum, mentorship and other resources—to help underrepresented founders accelerate their business and increase their visibility. The mission is to create a more inclusive investment landscape for underrepresented founders, ensuring access for those like Ty, who participated in the Lab in 2019 and who credits the Lab with changing the trajectory of his company.
He notes that the financial model he and his team developed during his time in the Lab has continued to resonate with VCs in recent funding rounds. In fact, Ty credits participation with contributing to Gappify’s subsequent 200% growth. The Lab is “a buffet of resources,” he says. “Unlike other accelerators, Morgan Stanley provided a white-glove, hands-on approach.”
Growing the Program Globally
In 2021, the Lab saw an opportunity to replicate the successful model that Ty and others benefited from, and the program expanded to include a cohort from Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).
Adaorah Oramah, CEO and Founder of AMAKA Studio, was part of the first Global cohort in 2022. Her company’s goal is to foster inclusion for the millions of content creators in many countries who are excluded from the most common content platforms. She joined the Lab at a crucial point in her company’s expansion, when she needed help in addressing issues of governance and infrastructure.
“During our pivot, we were able to work together with the Lab and tailor the agenda to fit our goals. I felt like it was part of the business,” says Oramah. “The Lab helped AMAKA focus on the essentials and double its user growth in the quarter after participating.”
The Latest Cohort
As the Lab has gained traction, the most recent round of applications exceeded 7,900, more than the combined total of all previous years and with over half of the applications from outside the U.S. “Word of mouth among startups, employee referrals and connections to startup networks in specific cities have all helped us grow the program, and by tailoring it to address how underrepresentation varies from country to country, we are able to have even more impact,” says Sanghamitra Karra, EMEA Head of Morgan Stanley Inclusive Ventures Group.
Nina Briance, a member of the current EMEA cohort and the founder and CEO of Cult Mia, which provides an easy-to-use platform to shop a thoughtfully curated collection of unknown and innovative fashion labels from around the world, has benefited from the Lab’s global expansion. “In the few short weeks I have been a part of the Lab, Morgan Stanley has come to feel very much like an extension to the Cult Mia team, offering a lifeline of support and expertise across all areas,” she says. “As a sole founder in particular, the team has been my sounding board in rethinking the organizational structure and board composition strategy following the recent close of our investment round.”