At this year’s Demo Day, the diverse entrepreneurs who participated in Morgan Stanley’s six-month startup accelerator took to the stage to share with the crowd their unique vision for success.
It was the moment they’d all been waiting for. The founders of the 10 companies chosen to take part in this year’s Multicultural Innovation Lab, Morgan Stanley’s in-house startup accelerator for firms led by diverse and women entrepreneurs, had just finished months of mentorship and an intensive curriculum that included lessons on refining their message, building their brand and incorporating feedback from experts into their business plans. Now it all came down to Demo Day, an opportunity to present to a network with investors, potential business partners and customers in hopes of securing funding to take their companies to the next level.
For many of the young innovators presenting, which included nine founders from programs run by Morgan Stanley’s partner organizations, including HearstLab and Newark Venture Partners Labs, the chance to pitch their tech and tech-enabled companies to such a powerful group was a dream come true. And one not often afforded to diverse founders, who, data show, are often overlooked by venture capitalists. Indeed, according to a recent survey conducted by Morgan Stanley, investors report capitalizing multicultural and women-owned businesses at 80% less than businesses overall. It’s for precisely this reason that Morgan Stanley launched the Lab in 2017. Each year since then, the firm has invited minority and women entrepreneurs to work at their headquarters, connecting founders to the resources they need to grow and scale their businesses, as well as providing them with a $200,000 equity investment. “We’re striving to close the funding gap by highlighting those entrepreneurs some people say they don’t usually see,” says Alice Vilma, Managing Director and co-head of Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab. “Quite frankly, we know these companies have what it takes. That’s why we have invested our capital in them and that’s why we have invited all the investors to Demo Day.”
And now that Demo Day was finally here, it was time for the latest class to show the world what they’d learned, as the participants relied on a mix of passion and PowerPoint slides to make their case. Says Carolyn Horner, co-founder and CEO of Jenzy, an e-commerce platform that helps busy parents find and buy right-sized shoes for their kids, “There’s some nerves, but mostly excitement. We’re really celebrating how far we’ve come over the last six months.” This audience, at least, was eager to hear what they had to say. “I had really high expectations coming in today and I wasn’t disappointed,” says Julia Schneider, Investor at New York City Economic Development Corporation. “If there’s anything this event highlights, it’s that there’s a huge opportunity investing in diverse founders.”
The best part? All the founders had a chance to meet with potential investors afterward for more in-depth discussions. And while this day marked the end of the entrepreneurs’ time at the Lab, it was the beginning of an exciting new chapter. Says Jotham Ty, founder and CEO of Gappify, who created a cloud-based digital accounting bot for corporations, “Because of the Lab and their belief and confidence in our business, we really feel like we can do anything now.”